Virginia Ann “Jenny Ann” Martin is a whirlwind of activity. She is constantly busy with a work project, a community service project, or some other project close to her heart.
She has a full-time job as the child nutrition, anti-drug, wellness director for Wyoming County Schools, also serves as mayor of Mullens, volunteers for numerous community projects, has two teenage sons – John Paul Lusk and Andrew Taylor Lusk, and a new husband, Danny Martin.
Martin has spent her life in Mullens.
“I have lived in Mullens my entire life – on Mullens Hill,” she said.
“I’ve only lived in three houses my entire life.
“I was an only child and lived right in the middle of a close extended family – my grandmother, her two sisters, and their husbands.
“I have the best memories of my childhood with the neighborhood kids, that I still stay in contact with, and a loving supportive family. These people made me the person I am.”
Her most cherished childhood memories also revolve around her family.
“Memories of holiday gatherings and cookouts at my Aunt Gertie and Uncle Luther’s house,” she recalled. “That was the house my grandmother and her siblings grew up in and was the nucleus of all family activity.
“My parents, my grandmother, and my Aunt Mary and Uncle Charlie were all always there. We had so much good food and lots of love.”
It is that loving family that has also been her biggest influence.
“They say it takes a village…
“I was raised with a close family all right there, a stone’s throw away. I was the only child, only grandchild in town, and had two aunts and uncles that didn’t have children.
“My mother, Ann Calhoun, was selfless, generous and kind to everyone. She taught me to appreciate others, hard work, sharing, treat everyone the same, help others, and unconditional love.
“My dad, John Calhoun, had high expectations and I worked hard to meet them.
“I never would want to do anything to disappoint any of my family. I lived at a time when I knew everyone on Mullens Hill and they all watched out for me and would call my family and report what I was into.
“One of my dearest friends, Marian Nolley, who influenced many young people in Mullens, was also a great influence. She possessed kindness, selflessness, and generosity to mention only a few of her special qualities. I began attending meetings with her and working on community service decades ago.”
Martin began her teaching career in 1989 at Baileysville High School after graduating from Concord College with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education.
In 1992, she was teaching at Coal Mountain Grade School – the same year the school was closed as part of the county’s school consolidations. As a result of the school closing, she lost her teaching job.
“I worked at Southern Highlands Mental Health Center for almost three years and the VOCA Corporation in Logan County for a year in the group homes.
“I substituted until I was rehired. I taught Special Education for a few weeks at Oceana High School, when I was first rehired. Next, I was at Road Branch, Baileysville Grade, Glen Fork, and Mullens.
“I then was the gifted teacher and served every school in Wyoming County.
“I was then hired as the principal at Herndon Consolidated for three years before coming to the Office of Child Nutrition in Pineville.
“In addition, I taught summer school, extended year, homebound, Alternative Education, Adult Basic Education, and did tutoring,” she noted.
In 1994, she earned a master’s degree in specific learning disabilities from West Virginia Graduate College (now Marshall University). In 2000, she added a master’s degree in severe and multiple disabilities from WVU.
“I did additional certification work in mild and moderate mental impairment, behavior disorders, Autism, gifted, administration, and child nutrition,” she said.
As the director of child nutrition, anti-drug, and wellness, she has numerous responsibilities.
“I plan the menus for the school lunch, breakfast, after-school snack and summer feeding programs and ensure that they meet the meal pattern requirements.
“I review all orders, monitor the food service production, and billing.
“I work with various agencies to provide after-school backpacks to students,” she said.
The backpacks contain food that children can prepare themselves while away from school. The program helps alleviate child hunger in the county.
“I love trying new recipes, providing the kids with food they enjoy and helping kids in need with the backpack program and summer feeding,” she emphasized. “So many students rely on the school for their main source of food.
“I got a $50,000 grant last year and it was the third year in a row that I have received large grants for alternative feeding programs.
“We have over 20 summer feeding sites,” she explained. “The food comes from three kitchens and volunteers deliver and distribute it at different locations.
“We serve over 300 meals a day throughout the county,” she said of the Summer Food Program.
“I am the chairman of the local wellness committee and work with the school nurses, all schools, and outside agencies to promote healthy lifestyles and good choices to the students,” Martin explained.
“We promote the anti-drug message and have SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapters in the schools. I have taken students to the state convention twice in the past few years.”
While Martin loves her administrative job, she does miss the daily interaction with students.
“I miss kids – I don’t get to be out with children as often as I would like.
“When I was principal, I got a hundred hugs a day. I greeted the kids when they got off the morning bus and went on field trips, had guests come to the school, and did activities with the kids so they could see and experience new things.”
In her current position, however, Martin is making a difference for children who might otherwise go hungry.
“That fuels me. I think all the time that, if a few circumstances were different, it could be my kids that needed help.
“I love to help others – it’s just my nature to volunteer to do what I can for others. My mother was like that; I always say I’m my mother’s daughter.
“Feeding kids just comes natural. I come from a family of great cooks, who loved to feed others.
“It breaks my heart to think of kids not having plenty to eat. I couldn’t sleep if I hadn’t done everything possible to feed kids a good hearty meal.”
On July 1, 2018, she became the mayor of Mullens.
“I wanted to help Mullens rebuild,” she said. “Mullens has seen some tough economic times and never really bounced back after the flood of 2001.
“My uncle was the mayor 50 years ago and I was raised with people who wanted to help the community.
“I want Mullens to be the place I grew up in, so today’s kids will have the same awesome childhood experiences I did.
“People asked me for four years to run. My kids begged me to help Mullens. I knew that I would work hard and do everything I could to help Mullens grow,” she said.
Mullens, like many municipalities across West Virginia, is struggling financially.
“We pay our bills; we inherited a massive debt to state and federal agencies,” Martin noted. “We have been very cautious with any purchases. I call every agency I can think of to get help for our town.
“I want Mullens to be like it was when I was growing up – a great place for kids, safe, and a family atmosphere.
“I want the kids of today to look back with great memories, as I do, and know they grew up in the best place in the world.
“We are committed to working to improve police, fire and recreational services and supporting the growth businesses,” she said.
The hardest lesson she’s learned as mayor thus far?
“People are resistant to change,” she said. “Promoting change isn’t popular.”
Public service is a huge responsibility, Martin advises.
“The safety and wellbeing of every member of the community is your responsibility – 24/7.
“Everywhere you go, people ask about issues that are important in their area of the neighborhood.
“You are there to serve the people and work to make a better community,” she emphasized.
As for leisure time, Martin has very little.
“What’s that?” she jokes. “When I’m not at work, I’m volunteering my family and myself to help somebody.”
When Martin is working on a project, her family is there by her side.
And, it is that “loving, kind, helpful and generous nature of my children” of which Martin is most proud.
When she retires, how does she want to be remembered?
“I want my former students to remember that I helped them, cared about them, was kind to them, and gave them opportunities to experience different things.”