by christine morgan arceneaux
July 19, 2012
Editor’s note: This article is the fifth in a series of feature stories about the mayors in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes.
SPRINGFIELD - Mayor Charles “Charlie” E. Martin greeted area residents to Fayard Field Sunday during the town’s Independence Day celebration, just as he has done at numerous events throughout his 26-year tenure as the town’s mayor.
“I saw him just yesterday,” Springfield resident Frank Steele said. “He and his wife were putting up (American) flags (in advance of Sunday’s event).”
“He helps this community so much,” Steele said.
“When he steps down as mayor, we’ll be hard pressed to find someone to replace him,” he said.
Former reserve officer Jack Alford agrees.
“He’s got some big shoes to fill,” Alford said of anyone who steps into the mayor’s post once Martin leaves office.
Martin never dreamed when he was first elected as alderman in 1985, that his service to Springfield would extend generations, he said.
Martin was born on Oct. 15, 1949, to Eddie Earl Martin, of Pumpkin Center, and Eula Lee Chandler, of Hammond, and is the oldest of six children. He graduated from Ponchatoula High School in May 1968, joined the Air Force National Guard in August 1968. He married Susan Elizabeth Abels, of Springfield, on Sept. 16, 1972. Together they had a son, Charles Jr., and a daughter, Alisha. They now have three grandchildren.
It was his wife that brought Martin to Springfield, a town incorporated in 1838, and home to Carter Plantation Golf Resort, Tickfaw State Park and several scenic rivers and waterways
“My wife was born and raised in Springfield,” Martin said. “Her dad was the elementary school principal and she taught at that same school, Springfield Elementary.”
The schools, Martin said, “are good because of the people here.”
Back when Martin first moved to the tiny town with a population of less than 500, most people knew one another, and still today, “for the most part, it’s still that way,” Martin said.
When Martin was elected town alderman in 1985, he remembers that his interest in the position peaked when controversy between the police department and the board of alderman led to a disagreement about whether the police chief should be an elected or appointed position, he said.
“That election never came about,” Martin said. “Still, today, the chief of police is an appointed position.”
For Martin, the move to lead the town wasn’t strictly a political one but instead a move to help improve the community in which his family would live.
“This job has been in my wife’s family,” Martin said. “Her great-grandfather was mayor.”
Martin’s wife’s uncle also served as mayor of the town in 1959, he said.
During his first year as alderman and first issue Martin faced as a political official, the town of Springfield pulled the bingo license from the Springfield Fire Department after fire department officials refused to turn over documents about bingo procedures that town officials had suspected weren’t being followed properly.
“They had no more revenue, and eventually went default,” Martin said of the fire department.
The fire department sued the town, and the town eventually paid $9,000 to finally settle the case, Martin said.
“The event was a no-win controversy for both parties involved,” Martin said.
After serving a year and a half as alderman, Martin was appointed to the mayor’s post to fill the shoes of former mayor Dewey Ratcliff, who had been elected to the Police Jury, now known as the Livingston Parish Council.
“I got out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Martin recalled smiling. “I was nervous. But, after a few meetings, I got the hang of it.”
Martin said his commitment to the town has always been to make Springfield a better place for businesses, visitors, and the citizens of the town.
“He really is dedicated to what he does as a mayor and as a member of this community,” said Alford, a Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Detective. “He tries to make it a friendly atmosphere.”
During his years as mayor, “Many streets were improved to maintain good travel through the town.”
In 1995, the town named a street after Miss Louisiana Elizabeth Coxe, of Springfield, who represented Louisiana in the Miss USA pageant.
“The whole community was fired up,” Martin said. “That was fun.”
That same year, Martin’s son was killed in a car accident.
While he didn’t talk much about the particulars of the accident, Martin was clearly moved by the community’s support.
“That devastated the community, and I was so humbled by the people’s concern for my wife and I,” Martin said.
In 1996, Martin was able to get the town its first red light, and that same year, Martin and owners of Hancock Bank worked together with the U. S. Air Force to place a monument and a tree in front of the bank honoring Capt. Ashley Davis who had died in a plane crash along with other high ranking officials. A State legislative act was passed to name La. 42, from the La. 22 intersection to the city limits, the Captain Ashley Davis Memorial Highway.
Keeping Springfield clean has always been one of Martin’s top priorities. Springfield has entered the State of Louisiana Cleanest City Contest for many years, winning the district contest numerous times, and winning the State contest twice, he said.
Beginning in 1995, and after 10 years of trials and tribulations, the town was able to receive a grant/loan for a long needed sewer system, he said. A half cent sales tax was passed to help defray some of the costs associated with the operation of the sewer plant, Martin said.
Martin said he has been working since 2009 to fund the second phase of the sewer project.
“I’m sure he worked to get Carter Supermarket into the town so that it could better serve the people of the town,” Alford said.
Martin has also seen the town grow over the past few decades, from just a few to more than 28 businesses. He also remembers when the town hall operated from a wood frame house three blocks from the current building’s location, and the ongoing water problems. Currently, the town has been approved for about $400,000 through the state’s Capital Outlay budget to tie into one of three water sources in the area, Martin said.
“We can tap into their water,” Martin said. “All we’ll need is to build distribution sites.” The total project cost is about $1.2 million, he said.
Since he took office, Martin has appointed 10 chiefs of police and has lost many numerous police officers to other agencies.
“Springfield is a training camp for policemen, adding that many of the trained officers leave their department to work at larger agencies such as the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s office and the Louisiana State Police.
For Martin, the town’s rich history makes it possible for the town to host an annual Civil War Reenactment and Living History in September of each year. A bit of a history buff, Martin told how, in 1838, when the town was incorporated, it was a booming community, and many people came to the area to harvest cypress lumber. Schooners would come from New Orleans and load cotton and lumber to bring back to the city, he said.
When the lumber was finally harvested, the population dwindled, and the parish seat was moved from Springfield to Port Vincent, Martin said.
“Story has it that the courthouse in Port Vincent mysteriously caught fire,” Martin said. “That’s how many of the Livingston Parish records were lost.”
Before the population dwindled, more than 1,800 lived in Springfield. For that reason, the area has maintained town status, he said.
In 1872, the Home Rule Charter was laid to rest, where it stayed until 1959 when Martin’s wife’s uncle, Harold P. Abels, and a group of other citizens renewed the charter.
But despite balancing his tenure as mayor with a full-time job at Dupont for years before retiring, Martin, who looked back on his career as mayor with a smile, said it has been good.
“I hope people remember that I’ve been a humble servant to this community, and that all I’ve done is to try and make it a better place to live,” Martin said when asked what he would most like to be remembered for.