After 30 years as the Citrus County School District’s occupational therapist, Martha Hinkle can add to her list of special skills “writing upside down and backward — in cursive.”
She has helped children throughout Citrus County with everything from holding a pencil or using scissors to daily living skills like pulling up their pants and feeding themselves, “skills they need to be independent in their classrooms,” she said.
“A lot of the children have been autistic, or have cerebral palsy or developmental delays, and through activities that look like play — crafts, music, games — they’re able to learn the skills they need,” Hinkle said. “It doesn’t matter what the disability is, all children can learn.”
As she winds down her 30-year career with the school district — her last day is June 19 — Hinkle said it’s been fun and rewarding to watch children succeed and to know she’s been a part of their success.
“A lot of times I’d be sitting across the table from a student, writing upside down and backward in cursive, because they wanted to learn,” she said. “We’ve had kids who we thought would never walk, take their first step, or one boy who was completely nonverbal now talks up a storm.”
Hinkle, a third-generation Citrus Countian, grew up in the same house in Inverness that she now lives in with her husband, Ken, and where she raised her family. She worked in the same schools where she was a student herself.
Back then, her name was Martha Hair.
“My grandmother was Frankie Davis Hair — she was born in Lecanto,” Hinkle said. “Her father, John W. Davis, came here as a baby from either Louisiana or South Carolina, to Middle Ground, which is what they called Lecanto in the 1800s.
“The house that my grandmother grew up in is still there, on (County Road) 491,” she said.
Her grandfather, Fred G. Hair, was the Gulf Oil distributor for the area. After he died, her father, also named Fred Hair, took over the business. He also served on the Inverness City Council four separate times.
“My daddy was born in a house on the corner of Grace Street and Seminole Avenue, but that’s no longer there,” she said. “Except for the time he was in the military, he never lived more than two or three blocks from where he was born.”
Her grandmother lived where CVS is now, on the corner on Main Street and Line Avenue, and after she died, Hinkle’s father and uncle let the fire department use the 100-plus-year-old house as a practice burn structure.
“We watched it burn all day,” Hinkle said. “It was sad, but the house was old and dilapidated.”
Hinkle met her husband, Ken, who is currently an Inverness City Council member, when they were in high school. After they married, they moved to Tampa where Mrs. Hinkle worked as an occupational therapist at a psychiatric hospital and then for the Veterans Administration.
When they returned to Inverness after a few years, she worked for a private clinic doing home health visits and then for the Key Training Center at Key Pine Village.
She went to work for the school district in 1986, because she wanted the same schedule as her children.
Her longtime friend and the superintendent of schools, Sandra “Sam” Himmel, said Hinkle will “truly be missed.”
“She has served and impacted thousands of students in our district and our community,” she said.
“It’s been good,” Hinkle said of her career, “and I don’t know what I’ll be doing after June 19. I may come back one day a month and do consulting, and I know I’ll be spending time with our grandchildren.
“We have a 3-year-old grandson, Will, with Down syndrome,” she said. “When he was born, my husband told me that God gave Will to our family and that he prepared me a long time ago to be the grandmother that can help him, and he’s the blessing that no one can imagine.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.