Martha King

By Victoria Register Freeman
Resident Community News

Martha King’s life is a rich mixture of convention and contrast. Decades before married woman kept their maiden names, Martha kept hers. Of course, John Wesley King Sr., her husband, just happened to be named King also. No monogram changes were necessary.

Martha’s parents, Frank and Jessie King, moved from Alabama to Ortega in 1941. They moved into the home of Ed Larson who had been elected State Treasurer and had moved his family to Tallahassee. The Kings were delighted to get the Ortega residence as good housing was extremely scarce in war time. Later, they purchased the home when Larson moved to Tallahassee permanently.
Frank King, a structural engineer specializing in steel construction, was contracted to strengthen the Naval Air Station runways in order to allow the landing of newer, heavier aircraft. He came to Jacksonville after working on the hurricane ravaged bridges in the Keys and was also involved in the construction of ten steel strengthened houses in South Ponte Vedra. The steel reinforcements made the beach houses more hurricane proof. The Kings bought one of these houses and used it as their beach house for years.

Back in town, Martha’s mother and other matrons expressed anxiety when young NAS pilots in training began “hedge hopping.” This colorful phrase identified the young pilots who were flying low, just over the tops of Ortega’s oaks. The idea was to make the tops of the trees flutter and possibly the hearts of some neighborhood belles.

Jessie King, one of the first women to graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, encouraged her daughter in both academics and music. Martha remembers her piano teacher, Genevieve MacMurray, who played the organ for the Catholic Church. She also remembers the recital gowns her mother sewed for her. “One was blue organdy, not bouffant because I didn’t need that at the piano. The neck was scooped with a ruffle of Hamburg lace which was very popular at that time. Our recitals were held at Friday Musicale.

“Another needle and thread moment that I remember vividly was watching Ann Jones’ mother make handkerchiefs for her husband while she was waiting in the car for Ann to finish her piano lessons. Mrs. Jones would pull a thread through the fabric to make a straight square and then she would hem the squares with tiny stitches. The handkerchiefs were elegant.”

Academically, Martha followed the traditional path from Ortega Elementary to Lakeshore Junior High and then on to Robert E. Lee. At Lee, the memory of one teacher stands out. “Virgie Cone, a math teacher who became a dean and a principal, unlocked math for me. She could explain it in a way that I understood it fairly easily. I don’t know how she did it, but she did.”
Cone’s gift of mathematical prowess became useful when Martha reentered the educational arena and had to teach out-of-field. Having graduated from Georgia’s Agnes Scott College with a major in French and Spanish, she re-entered teaching after her children – John, Mandy and Marcie – entered school themselves. At that time languages were not required by many colleges and, as a result, were not required in Duval schools, so for four years Martha taught math, English and Home Economics. “I was whatever they needed, wherever they needed it,” she recalls with a smile.

When she was finally able to leave her out-of-field math position for a language position which she held for 17 years, Martha was asked to continue teaching math because she had been very effective with Lakeshore Junior High students. It was at that time that she remembered Cone fondly.

Sally Mangham and Martha King in front of the restaurant which now exists in the old Ortega post office

Sally Mangham and Martha King in front of the restaurant which now exists in the old Ortega post office

As a lifelong resident of Ortega, Martha enjoys relating historical tidbits. One of her favorite stories concerns the mail. “Ortega used to be outside the city limits. At one point there was a sign on the riverbank that said, ‘Ortega, Florida.’ Twice a day, a mailbag was hung on a post by the train tracks and the mail was picked up and delivered that way. The post office itself was in the room that was part of Simply Sara’s restaurant. There are two cement lions guarding the front door.”

Reflecting on other changes in that small community, Martha, an animal lover, recalls, “Ortega has always been animal friendly. The dogs ran all over the place as my son found out when he got his first paper route. He came home and said that every house seemed to have a dog that followed his bicycle. Many folks felt like seeing a leashed dog almost seemed as if you were viewing animal cruelty.

“The children ran free also. There were no chain link fences around the schools. No women were jogging. Few were walking outside their houses. Men might walk on Sunday carrying their canes. Of course, it was a different time. Some things have not changed though. I still have some of the friends that I made years ago: Ann Jones, Thelma Stevens, Louise Valentine and others.

“When I think about the holidays, I wish the emphasis was less on corporate profits and more on community. Community is important.This has been a good community to live in, a very good one indeed.”

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