Brad Johnston was just 10-years-old when his mother died, and with his father often traveling for work away from their home in Shorewood, Wisconsin, “I was frequently without any structure or discipline and neglected school except for sports,” he says.
Brad was in junior high school then, and news about his activities eventually got back to his sister, Marilyn, who was 19 years older and living in Hamilton, New York, and her husband, Guy. “They were getting lines of communication not from my father, but from my school district, because they both graduated from the high school I was about to attend,” Brad says. “Guy had been the valedictorian and my sister had been the salutatorian, and they were excellent students and had a great reputation. They knew a lot of the faculty and they’re getting reports that I’m hitting new personal records for detentions and things in junior high, and they checked in to see what’s going on.” That check-in conversation led to another conversation, this time with Brad’s father, in which Guy suggested that Brad might benefit from attending boarding school, where there would be more structure in place. Guy, who was Dean of Students at Colgate University and served on the Northfield Mount Hermon Board at the time, knew James Moore, Headmaster of the Canterbury School, was starting a new boarding school in Indiana. Guy convinced Brad’s father that the school, La Lumiere, would be a better option for Brad than his current living situation.
“Guy showed that interest in me then, and within two years, at age 16, my father died,” Brad says. “I did a lot of growing up in that space. My relationships with faculty at La Lumiere stand out. In fact, I was just on the phone with a faculty member who taught me geometry and theology 50 years ago. Those opportunities of developing relationships within the community there and the structure and the support that I received made all the difference in my life.”
Today, as he reflects on that time five decades ago, Brad wants to offer to others some of that same support that he received. Guy and Marilyn’s son–Brad’s nephew–is Colin Martin P’24, P’27, P’29, an 8th-grade History Teacher at Wheeler. After taking a recent tour of the school with Colin, Brad was inspired to make a meaningful difference by establishing an endowed scholarship. “I knew a little about Wheeler from Colin, but when I saw the labs and the theater and the classrooms, and when I met with some of the faculty and saw that same kind of relational care and concern for the whole child that I received, it made me want to assist in the spirit of Guy Martin,” he says. “I want to assist those who have lost parents and may be emotionally or financially disadvantaged, but they’re young souls who have the opportunity to live a great life filled with gifts and experiences and produce a lot versus other paths that can be chosen. I think the stability that’s provided to a young person by a healthy organization with a strong educational focus, and the compassion and relationships with the teachers who become surrogate parents in many respects in some cases, that’s worth getting behind.”
“I think it’s awesome that Brad is establishing this scholarship,” adds Colin. “Brad’s been a hero to me all my life–how he’s navigated life’s significant challenges in a very human, open, and courageous way, and how he’s found ways to be successful and to embrace life. He’s used his success to give others support in ways that can be meaningful to them.”
To fully tell the story behind the scholarship, Brad says it’s important to know more about the life of Guy Martin, who, as Brad describes, always used his gifts to seek out and help people who had a disadvantage, like he did. Guy grew up in Wisconsin in the 1940s and 50s, and he was a student who excelled both academically and athletically. “He made the All-State Football Team and was eligible to go to any college in the country, including Harvard and Yale, but his family was of modest means,” Brad says. “He always felt that people underestimated him because of his origins. Of all the schools that he could have played for, he chose Colgate University because of the character of the coach. Colgate’s football team was very successful when Guy was there, and he was one of the team’s stars and third team All-American. After graduating, he played professional football in Winnipeg, Canada for a year before deciding to go into ministry. He married Brad’s sister, Marilyn, during that time, and they moved from Winnipeg to Chicago so Guy could attend the Chicago Theological Seminary and become a Methodist minister. That educational experience led to another, when Guy became the Dean of Students for Kendall College in Chicago, a school that was founded by Methodist seminarians. “This was a very heated time for Civil Rights, and Guy was a proponent of recruiting minority students,” Brad says. “He got involved in some grassroots conversations about how to bring a more diverse population, back in the 1960s, to a college.” Those efforts attracted the attention of Guy’s alma mater, Colgate, which had recognized its own need to recruit a more diverse population. Guy would go on to serve in several key roles at the school, including Dean of Admissions and Dean of Students, before later becoming Dean of Students at Harvard Divinity School.
It was during this period that Guy and Marilyn learned about Brad’s challenges and contacted his father. That outreach, Brad says, was reflective of Guy’s desire to connect with outsiders and bring them in. “Guy always showed authentic interest and curiosity and validation,” Brad says. “I just remember in my own personal life, there were things I did that were not good, and he was not the person that I ever felt like I needed to feel ashamed in front of.”
In establishing the Guy V. Martin Scholarship in memory of Guy, who died in 2019, Brad says he is honoring Guy’s ideals of character, scholarship, and faith. “He was totally committed to education and young people,” Brad says. The endowed scholarship in his name will support a Wheeler student with financial need every year in perpetuity.
Colin Martin says the scholarship symbolizes his dad’s spirit and life work. “My dad always recognized the dignity in each person as distinct from circumstances or injustices. Sometimes the best support can mean giving someone an opportunity and the equity to navigate their lives while receiving the encouragement of a caring community. This scholarship supports students in the Wheeler community where people see, respect, and celebrate each student’s dignity and potential.”
In addition to honoring Guy, Brad also wants to express how grateful he is to his sister, Marilyn, who passed away this year, as well as Guy and Marilyn’s children, John, Kristin, and Colin, for the impact they’ve had on his life. Now, Brad says, “I’m paying it forward.”