Dicy McCullough: Marty Hartman likes to be where the action is

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 12:18 a.m.

The first time I met Marty Hartman was during the Books Under the Big Top Festival at the Rowan Public Library in April. Marty was at the festival promoting and sharing his children’s book, “The Adventures of Wally the Wheelchair.”

Marty not only loves people, but he also loves to be where the action is. The difference between him and other “social butterflies” is that Marty interacts from a wheelchair. After you get to know him, the wheelchair somehow disappears.


Born in 1963 with spina bifida, the doctors gave Marty’s parents, C.A. and Alyce Hartman, the devastating news that their son would be paralyzed from the waist down and probably wouldn’t live beyond the age of 3. While we appreciate doctors and their expertise, sometimes they are wrong, and in this case, they were.

Although he did have spina bifida, what’s ironic is that Marty received his first wheelchair at the age of 3 and hasn’t stopped rolling since. His wheels gave him the freedom to make decisions about where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do, even if only in the framework of his home.

When Marty was old enough to begin school, he went to the Children’s Center for the Physically Handicapped in Winston-Salem, attending there through fifth grade. In sixth grade, he enrolled at C. Easton Intermediate School in Winston-Salem, being the first handicapped student to attend.

Middle school was difficult because other kids picked on him almost daily. Riding home with his mom from school each afternoon, he would tell her he wasn’t going back, but doing his homework each evening at the kitchen table, he knew he would.

Life became better for Marty when he began playing sports in high school. Joining basketball and bowling leagues for handicapped athletes, Marty excelled, with opportunities to travel to other states, including Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and Ohio. Winning some championships along the way, Marty made memories that will last a lifetime.

One of those memories involved his wife, Angela. After high school, Marty continued to bowl in a league for handicapped athletes, meeting Angela in her role as a recreational therapist. During the late 1980’s, part of Angela’s job was finding new members for the league when there was a vacancy. At one point, not able to find anyone interested in filling an open spot, she agreed to bowl. It wasn’t long after that until Angela and Marty became friends. That friendship led to falling in love and marriage.

Planning for a February wedding in 1989, Marty thought it would be special if there was a light snow falling on his wedding day, so he prayed for snow. Marty said, “God must have had a sense of humor because there was almost a blizzard.” Angela added, “Well, it didn’t snow the 14 inches the weatherman said it would, but there was enough some of the people who were planning to come to the wedding didn’t make it.”

Marty laughed. “That might have been a good thing. If everyone who was invited to the wedding had been there, the church wouldn’t have been large enough to hold them, so we would have had to get married twice,” he said.

With a twinkle in his eye, Marty laughed again, knowing this would have also meant kissing his bride twice.

When I asked Marty what he does for a living, he said after high school he began working for his dad’s painting company. After painting for just a little over a year, he decided to try something different, taking a position as security officer at the Belk department store in Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem.

He later worked as a loss-prevention manager at the Belk store in Lexington. Part of his job there was to look for shoplifters. Angela said he was so good at it, he almost could tell by a person’s body language if they were shoplifting or not. Although Marty enjoyed the work, after 16 years he was ready for another change, taking a position with the Social Security office in Salisbury.

I always thought Marty would make an inspiring story, but didn’t realize the depth of his story until we met for lunch at the Cracker Barrel in June. Talking with Marty and Angela during our meal, when it was time to go, I asked if there was anything he or she wanted to add. That’s when Marty pointed to his daughter, Sarah, and said, “We have to include her.”

Sarah celebrated her 13th birthday a couple of weeks ago, but was only 4 months old when Marty and Angela adopted her in 2000. Marty said he always wanted a family, but knew the only option for him would be adoption. While driving back and forth for 10 weekends from Atlanta, Ga., training for his new position in Salisbury, Marty had lots of time to think. It was during one of those drives he realized the time and circumstances were right to adopt.

Having taken four years of Spanish in high school, Marty always wondered what he would do with this ability. Given the opportunity to adopt a 4-month old baby girl from Guatemala, Marty knew those four years of Spanish were exactly what he needed.

Asking Sarah how she felt about being adopted, she said, “Fine. Everybody accepts me and I even have a best friend.” Laying her head on her daddy’s shoulder, it was obvious the love she had for him as she looked up and smiled.

To share his story with children, Marty wrote a picture book titled, “The Adventures of Wally the Wheelchair.” Through this book, Marty wants others to see life can be rich and full, even with a handicap, and that everyone has a purpose. “The Adventures of Wally the Wheelchair” is now available in Salisbury at Literary Bookpost, Creative Teaching Aids and the Bible Bookstore. If interested in having Marty speak at your church, school or organization, contact him at wallythewheelchair@yahoo.com or 336-391-3412.

Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.

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