By Tammy Gray
Marlin Gillespie is well known for his volunteer work in the community, but few people may know that an early childhood experience set him on a path of giving back what he once received.
He moved to Holbrook nearly 75 years ago, in 1939, with his parents and brothers and sisters. Marlin was about five years old and it was nearly Christmas, but with six children still at home and very little money, his parents could not afford gifts.
“My parents were very poor,” he said. “They had already forewarned us there would be no Christmas. But on Christmas day, Bill and Edna Fischer and their children came to the house and brought some of their new toys and gave them to us.”
According to Marlin, the act of kindness made a big impression on him.
“That instilled in my mind an idea that it’s good to share with people,” he explained. “And I think I’ve tried to do that all of my life.”
His mother also helped shape his giving nature by setting an example of caring for the ill and elderly. Marlin explained that despite having very little, she always took food and spent time visiting community members who were sick or unable to leave their home.
“My mother, every time she would hear that somebody was sick, would take food or at least go visit. That is another lesson I learned,” he said.
Marlin explained that of all the opportunities he has had to volunteer and help in the community over the last 75 years, hosting Up With People performers has been one of his favorite. He and his wife Joni hosted two or three students each time the performance group came to the area, and still keep in touch with some of their guests. Marlin noted that he enjoyed meeting the students, learning about other cultures and teaching his children about other parts of the world.
Besides serving as a host family, over the years Marlin has served as the county sheriff, as a county supervisor and in numerous volunteer organizations, although he minimizes his role, noting that he has simply tried to stay active in the community after retirement.
“I kept an interest in the community and the county. It was time to pay back and return the things they had given to me,” he said.
Marlin has fond memories of growing up in Holbrook. He was the 11th of 12 children in his family, and lived in a small house on the south side of the river during his grade school years. He and his classmates in his neighborhood used the railroad bridge as a shortcut on their walk to school.
“We would cross the old railroad bridge. We wouldn’t go to the crossing,” he said. “Sometimes there were trains there and we had to crawl underneath. Fortunately, nobody ever got hurt. The train crews watched out for us.”
He attended Sheldon school through fourth grade, and then went on to the high school, located where the junior high currently stands for fifth through 12th grade. Marlin graduated from Holbrook High School in 1952, and then joined the Navy, along with classmates Pat Moya and Johnny Ramirez.
After finishing his service in 1956, Marlin returned to Holbrook where he tried out several jobs, such as selling life insurance and working at a service station, before joining the sheriff’s office as a deputy in 1957. At that time, there were a total of nine employees at the sheriff’s office, including three deputies that handled all the calls for the Holbrook region. According to Marlin, in those years most deputies only stayed with the department until a new sheriff was elected, and the new sheriff then brought on new staff. When Sheriff Ben Pearson, who had hired Marlin, turned the reigns over to Glen Flake, Marlin was the only deputy to remain.
Flake appointed Marlin to the chief deputy position, where he remained until being appointed sheriff by the board of supervisors when Lyle Jenkins resigned in the middle of his second term.
“I was with the sheriff’s office for 28 and a half years, and was sheriff the last 11 years until I retired in January 1985,” he said.
It was during his early years at the sheriff’s office that Marlin met his wife Joni. He explained that he had noticed her at a parade and later learned that she worked at the telephone company with his sister.
“It was probably a Christmas parade and I happened to see a young girl by Gillespie Park. She was watching the parade and I didn’t know who she was, but I found out,” he said.
He made arrangements through his sister to meet up with her at a New Years party at the Corral Bar, but Joni made him ask her out properly.
“He asked to take me home, but I told him I wasn’t a pick-up,” she said. “So the next day he called and asked to take me for a Coke on my work break.”
The two were married five weeks later and recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. They had four children, two of which have passed away, and now enjoy spending time with their 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Although his health has forced him to slow down a little bit, Marlin explained that he still likes to help out around the community wherever he can.
Joni noted, “What I find special about him is his huge heart, he has such compassion. He liked to do things anonymously for other people.”
“Well that’s the way you’re supposed to do things,” Marlin said.