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Martha Anne Willey Farago passed away on November 14, 2023 at the age of 80, in the company of her family at Lorain Mercy Hospital.
Martha was born in Fremont, Ohio, on October 19, 1943, to Robert and Mildred Willey. She was the second of four children, including older brother Robert Willey and sisters Susan Hoffbauer and Beth Lewis. She was predeceased by her parents and siblings, and was the last surviving member of her immediate family.
And a survivor she truly was—having lived through an emergency tracheotomy as a baby, a bout of polio as a three-year-old, and bacterial pneumonia in 2009 that led to a near-death experience. She truly was like a cat with nine lives. She often referred to these last 14 years of her life as her “bonus years,” and we were truly blessed to have that additional time with her.
Martha graduated with honors from Fremont Ross High School in 1961, and her presence was felt in those halls long after her graduation, thanks to the colorful murals that she painted outside the school’s science classrooms. That love of art, biology, and education guided her to Bowling Green State University, where she would achieve a double major in English and Biology, graduating with honors in 1965.
Drawing inspiration from her teachers at Fremont Ross, Martha earned her teaching certificate upon graduation from Bowling Green. In 1965, she was accepted into the Peace Corps and was offered a position in Africa. She was also offered a teaching job in Los Angeles–near the site of that summer’s Watts Uprising–but she made the last-minute decision during the last working hour on a Friday in August to apply for the position of English teacher at Oberlin High School. Her father, Robert, drove her to the interview, as Martha had not yet obtained her driver’s license. A successful interview led to an immediate job offer, and Martha began her teaching career the following week.
With her first paycheck, Martha moved to Oberlin and put a down payment on a cherry red Mustang, knowing that she would find time to earn her driver’s license soon enough. The first-year teacher shared an apartment with Paulette Gossard, and she and Martha would become close friends with several other local teachers, including Josephine and Helen Farago of Wellington.
Less than two years into her teaching career, on New Year’s Eve, Josephine invited Martha to visit her family’s house in Wellington, where she introduced Martha to her brother, Tony, who was having a cup of coffee at his mother’s kitchen table. Josephine pulled him aside and suggested that he invite Martha to the New Year’s party at Wellington’s Eagles lodge that night. Tony was skeptical, but Martha, trusting Josephine’s judgment, took him up on the last-minute invitation and they never looked back.
A whirlwind courtship followed, and Tony and Martha eloped and were married in Michigan on June 14, 1968. Friends Josephine and Helen became her sisters-in-law, as would Paulette a few years later when she married Tony’s brother, Carl. Over the next eleven years, Martha and Tony welcomed five children: Lisa, David, Michael, Andrew, and Christopher. As Tony often told his children, “your mother was the best thing that ever happened to me,” a statement that all of them have taken to heart.
With the birth of her daughter, Martha took a self-described “20-year maternity leave” to raise her five children. When the youngest, Christopher, entered first grade, Martha renewed her teaching certificate and resumed her educational career in January 1986 as a substitute teacher at McCormick Middle School in Wellington. Martha earned a staff position as the junior high Honors English teacher the following school year, and she soon found herself splitting her time between McCormick and Wellington High School, teaching sophomore and senior English. In 1994, she earned her Master’s Degree in Gifted and Talented Education from Ashland University. Martha would teach full time at Wellington High School as the sophomore and senior Honors English and AP English teacher until her retirement in 2010.
Martha’s understated brilliance shone through in her detailed paintings, drawings, and home renovation projects. She had an amazing sense of color and design, and together with her husband Tony painstakingly transformed the house on 439 South Main Street room by room. The only room in the house that had not been finished was the kitchen, and to that she smiled and shrugged it off with a breezy “whatever,” a tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase very familiar to her friends and immediate family.
Martha loved her flowers and her garden, and had a talent for landscaping, and neighbors could mark the passage of the seasons through her springtime planting, summertime blooms, and the fall harvest.
She was fiercely private, never wanting to be the center of attention, and was content to sit off to the side as she enjoyed the company of her family, although she was always quick with a pointed one-liner or well-timed eyeroll as the perfect complement to tales told by her husband or children in the family dining room. As her high school yearbook so perfectly described her in 1961, “she is gentle and shy, but has mischief in her eye,” a statement as true in 2023 as it was back then.
That quick, dry wit served her well in the final month of her life, after a series of illnesses led to her hospitalization and round-the-clock medical treatment. Despite her weakened condition, with each family visit, she expressed concern for her husband and children, and wanted reassurance that everyone was eating well and taking care of their own health. She found comfort in writing notes that documented her own recovery process and schedule, and provided notes to Tony to ensure that his “to-do list” was always full.
Martha continued to amuse and delight her family even in her final hours at Lorain Mercy Hospital. When she was informed that Tony and her children were present at her bedside, she smiled and said, “whee! It’s party time!” cutting the tension and bringing some classic Mom levity to the proceedings.
Martha is survived by her husband Tony, to whom she was married for 55 years; daughter Lisa Farago and husband Drew Dumsch; sons David Farago and wife Shaay Ford Farago; Michael and Amelia Workman Farago; Andrew Farago and wife Shaenon Garrity; Christopher Farago and his partner Katherine Ruckle; grandchildren Tierney, Nico, Sophie, Hera, Marcello, and Robin; and many, many many sisters- and brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews, all of whom dearly loved her.
A visitation will be held on Tuesday, November 21 at the Norton-Eastman Funeral Home, 370 South Main Street, in Wellington, from 2-4 PM, with services to follow. In lieu of flowers, her family asks that you plant a flower this spring in your garden at home in memory of Martha. Expressions of sympathy may be shared online at www.norton-eastmanfuneralhome.com.