Judy and Jerry Martin met online via a dating service. Judy said she was being a smart aleck because Jerry claimed in his profile to be a cowboy. She had heard from a friend there was a single man named Jerry working at Walmart and then realized the man she met online was the same Jerry. She went to Walmart to check him out a few times. One day she walked up to him and said, so you think you’re a cowboy, huh? He recognized her too. They started dating and never looked back. That was 13 years ago. They were married for eight.
From the beginning Jerry shared his caring nature with Judy. He did all the cooking. When she was gone overnight to college classes in Aberdeen – she went back to school at age 50 – he took her dog out twice a day, arriving at her house at 5 a.m. and again at 10 p.m., to take it for a walk and a ride in the car. He was old-school, Judy said, and always opened the car door for her.
Jerry Martin truly was a cowboy. He worked for large cattle operations in Texas, California and Wyoming. His family was on the move in a literal wagon train traveling the country looking for work for several months. They asked if they could camp in fair grounds or rodeo grounds and often, the townspeople let them stay over. He had a lifelong love of horses that he shared with Judy’s family and their friends. He loved reading and watching the History channel. The patriotism that led him into military service followed him throughout his life.
“He was a great guy and I hadn’t had that,” she said. “So, it was nice, but I was like, you were supposed to last longer.”
Jerry had no history of cancer but in October 2022 he was diagnosed with cancer after tests, Xrays and an MRI came back showing spots. More tests followed. Judy said the doctors couldn’t determine where the cancer started but by the time they found it the disease had moved to his liver, pancreas and lower lungs. He already suffered from asthma and diabetes. They were going to wait to start Jerry on chemotherapy treatments until after the holidays, but he was in so much pain they started a round right way. This knocked the Martin’s income from two down to one in a week, Judy said. Jerry had worked for Walmart for 15 years, but at the time he got sick was a cashier on the graveyard shift at the 281 Travel Center.
“Horizon was very good,” Judy said. “The whole billing team was very good. They let me make up my hours. Otherwise, we had no money. We just weren’t prepared.”
There were many trips from their home in Wolsey to Sioux Falls and Mitchell for doctor’s appointments and treatments. Jerry was a veteran so they could use the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Sioux Falls. He had chemo appointments once a week for three weeks and was then home for a week.
“On his chemo days I couldn’t expect someone to take him because he would be there all day,” Judy said. “A lot of times we would go (for treatment) and he’d have doctor appointments – lots of doctor appointments.”
They did that for three months and then learned that instead of shrinking the cancer had grown. Doctors gave Jerry the option to discontinue treatments, but he chose to keep going.
“He wasn’t ready to give up,” Judy said.
Clayton Nelson, Horizon’s Director of Billing Services, immediately offered Judy emergency assistance funds from the Horizon Health Foundation, but Judy said no because she knew it was going to get worse.
“We’re treading right now,” she told him.
Horizon was letting her work as many hours as she could, working around her schedule and letting her make up time. But it just got to be more and more until she finally decided she needed help.
“At first I didn’t want to ask, I’ll be honest,” Judy said. “I thought, I can get through this, I can do this. And Clay was like, no, it’s there for the employees.”
Once she had missed work and didn’t have any sick time or vacation left, Horizon employees donated hours, which was “very awesome,” Judy said. It was at this point she decided to access the emergency funds.
Nelson gave her the paperwork, helped her complete it and once it was submitted it went through fast, Judy said. The $500 she received helped with utility bills and her house payment. Her co-workers in the billing department at the Jerauld County Community Health Center chipped in $100 in gas cards. That helped too.
“They were great to me,” Judy said. “They didn’t make me feel bad for asking. They were very supportive. I think it’s great they have money set up for the employees.”
Jerry’s treatments continued until one day Judy couldn’t get him off the couch. She called neighbors and a local pastor to help her get Jerry into her car so she could take him to Sioux Falls. He was in the VA until the hospital social worker and chaplain told her he only had days left to live. She brought him to the nursing home in Woonsocket because it was connected to the VA and relatively close to Wolsey. By then the cancer had moved to his brain, but he was still concerned with taking care of Judy and making sure she went home to get some rest. He passed away a few days later on April 10.
Judy contributes to the Employee Emergency Fund so that she can help someone else in need. The fund is an indication to Judy that Horizon doesn’t forget it’s employees. She said other companies give to community initiatives or fundraisers but don’t really help their own employees who are suffering through hard times. It’s meaningful to her that Horizon does both.
“I think what the foundation does is good and having it be one of their employees who gets it instead of someone in the community that needs it. That’s what I really like about it. I just wish I wouldn’t have had to use it.”