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Sedalia community loses valued advocate for local businesses


SEDALIA — Sedalia has lost one of its biggest advocates of the area business community, and the Sedalia Democrat has lost a team member.

Tom Martin, 67, of Sedalia, died Friday, March 15 at home after a months-long battle with cancer.

Born in Cape Girardeau, Martin and his family lived in Kansas and Nebraska before moving to Sedalia in 1971. He graduated from Smith-Cotton High School in 1975 and State Fair Community College in 1977.

He began his career as the manager at Show Me Electronics, Cybertel Cellular, before joining the Sedalia Democrat in 1997 as an advertising sales representative. Over the last three decades, Martin became synonymous with the Democrat and advertising in West Central Missouri as he helped countless businesses, organizations and individuals with their advertising needs. 

Dalton Kostopolus owns Forty Winks in Sedalia and worked with Martin for at least 20 years, although they met long before they were businessmen while students at Smith-Cotton in the ‘70s. Kostopolus called Martin a “rare breed” in that he was a true professional in all his encounters as a salesman.

“And a fierce advocate for me as his customer,” Kostopolus added. “I’ve been at it for 42 years and we were tickled when Tom took over our account because, as I say, he was very professional. Followed through on everything that was asked and really went above and beyond in so many ways. He went above and beyond, and I always knew I was in good hands. We were at it for so long, he was like part of the family.”

Amy and Bob Torok, owners of Forever 10 Gaming in Sedalia, were also longtime clients. Bob first met Martin while working at Town and Country Motors more than 20 years ago. Bob didn’t handle ads for the business but often chatted with Martin when he’d stop by. When Amy and Bob opened Forever 10 roughly a decade ago, Bob said Martin recognized him from the dealership days.

“Tom was amazing because even though he didn’t know about what we sold in-depth, he always would come up with the best clip art or the wording he puts in things,” Bob said. “He knew exactly how to hit it, even with him not knowing much about our business. He knew how to do it just right. He was a different salesman from nowadays because he’d only bring us things he knew fit our genre or we’d be interested in, he wouldn’t just try to put us in everything every week.

“He tried to do whatever he could to improve each individual small business to make sure everyone succeeded as best as possible,” Bob added. “He definitely was very personable with us, just a very trusting person at that point.”

Eron Harding, owner of Backwoods Guitar in downtown Sedalia, was also one of Martin’s advertising clients. Their relationship extended beyond business and into a shared love of music. Harding said Martin was “one of those people everyone knows and everyone likes.”

“He’s been a guitar player around these parts forever, played with a lot of us local guys here and there, he’s run sound,” Harding said. “He’s had his hands in a little bit of everything from one venture to another. He never really did say (why he loves music) – he’s probably like the rest of us, we’ve just got it in our blood. Just an indescribable urge to get out there and play. I know he liked playing the classic rock stuff. It’s one of those things, he has the drive just like the rest of us. One of the lucky few to have the gift, so to speak. He used his gift to entertain the rest of humanity and do this thing. People used his music to feel better, to dance; it was his form of expression.”

On the business side, Harding said he couldn’t have asked for a better sales rep, as Martin always looked out for him.

“He knew what to steer me in the right direction for, what would fit our business better than other promotions,” Harding said. “He wasn’t just there to do his job to sell ads; he legitimately wanted the business to succeed; he wanted everyone to do good, to do better.”

While he used emails and phone calls when needed, Martin was known for preferring in-person sales visits with his customers. He wanted to see what his clients were offering firsthand and show them advertising options in person rather than virtually. He often walked into businesses with extra newspaper copies in hand whenever a client was featured in the Democrat, or later, the Warrensburg Star-Journal, to make sure they had seen the coverage.

“He was always real interested in new gear, anything new that happened in the shop. He kept up with us a whole lot,” Harding said. “When I’d do a repair, he’d come in to talk and watch over my shoulder, he thought that was fascinating.

“Just being a good friend, that’s the thing I’ll probably miss the most. He’s just a great guy. You can’t say anything bad about him.”

As one of the longest-tenured employees at the Democrat, Martin was a walking history book with knowledge of the Sedalia newspaper dating back decades and information about nearly every business in a six-county area. He often stayed at the office late to finish submitting ads for his clients, never missing a deadline but using every last minute he had to call one more customer or tweak one more piece of ad copy. Martin kept the newsroom in the loop on developing business news he learned about while on the road, and had no shortage of compliments for reporters when he enjoyed an article.

While Martin was professional enough to keep his political opinions out of his sales calls, he never passed up an opportunity to share his thoughts on politics – or sports – during evening chats in the office or on his social media.

According to his obituary, Martin enjoyed astronomy, fishing, hunting, politics, sports and guitars. He taught himself to play the guitar and became an accomplished guitar player who played with many bands over the years, along with running sound and lights for several area bands.

He also had a strong love for animals, including his dogs and the Democrat’s office cat, Luna, who became fast friends with Martin.

His expertise was unmatched, and his willingness to go the extra mile for a customer or coworker will always be remembered.

Democrat and Star-Journal Publisher Jamila Khalil said Martin was very welcoming when she joined the staff last year.

“Tom was a highly experienced salesperson and I enjoyed working with him because of the depth of his knowledge about advertising sales,” Khalil said. “He was very good at developing long-term relationships with his clients and they had a great deal of respect for him and enjoyed working with him.

“He was very passionate about local businesses and making sure that local businesses were successful,” she added. “He really wanted to see them succeed, and it wasn’t just lip service.”

Khalil said she enjoyed having arguments with Tom, which were all in good fun, as they discussed differing musical tastes – Tom said anything after the 1980s was horrible – and thoughts on politics.

“It was enjoyable to talk to him because he was very thoughtful,” she said. “It wasn’t just stuff he just pulled out of thin air, he had given a lot of thought to his beliefs. Even though Tom and I would argue about trivial things, it was an enjoyable type of argument and I’m really going to miss Tom because he was fun to work with.”

Martin is survived by his long-time companion, Penny Ford, daughter, Amanda, and grandson, Asher Martin, all of Sedalia; his brother, David Martin of St. Peters, and his sister, Becki Richardson, of Sedalia, along with numerous extended family members.

The family will receive friends at 1 p.m. Friday, March 22, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Rea Funeral Chapel, 3510 W. 16th St. in Sedalia. Arrangements are under the direction of Rea Funeral Chapel.

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138.