ST. GEORGE — When Stephen Wade first heard Ryan Martin’s story, he was so impressed by the young man’s selflessness that he decided then and there to contribute to the Navajo Nation resident’s cause.
After being selected as Dixie Tech Student of the Year for 2021, Martin was invited to speak to the board of directors for Dixie Technical College, where he met Wade and fellow board member Ed Burgess, the president of Quality Excavating. He related the challenges he faced in the process of earning his diesel technician certificate and shared his goals to continue supporting his community, Wade said.
“Not only did he graduate number one in his class, but then to hear him stand and say, ‘I’m just going to work with my Navajo people and help those in trouble,’” Wade said. “We were just awestruck by it. He’s like an old cowboy that rides for the brand.”
Feeling that Martin was particularly deserving, Wade and Burgess approached him with the offer to furnish a utility truck and all the tools he would need to start his career.
On Wednesday, Martin and his family were invited to the Dixie Tech campus to receive the first delivery of almost $10,000 worth of tools supplied by Wade through Snap-On Franchisee Tim Adams.
Wade and Adams, along with Dixie Tech President Kelle Stephens, congratulated Martin in a small celebration on the college campus. Martin thanked his family for their support and Wade and Burgess for their help, promising to put his new tools and vehicle to good use.
“What I’m going to do with these tools and that truck that Ed gave me – it’s not for me – it’s for others so I can help them get back on the road,” Martin said. “Not just my own family and relatives, but even tourists and private companies. When I look at it, I see a lot of opportunities to help.”
Getting started at Dixie Tech
Martin enrolled at Dixie Tech in January 2020. Fresh out of high school, he relied on the generosity of his family members to afford a one-way trip to St. George and apply for the diesel technician program.
“During the initial interview process, he didn’t even have enough money to get home,” said Shawn Bain, lead diesel instructor. “I was just blown away by that. He was very determined to take this program. He knew that he just had to.”
Martin scraped by for the first three months, finding temporary housing where he could until the COVID-19 pandemic upended his education.
When Dixie Tech reopened for in-person instruction, he was so driven that he would wake up at 3 a.m. on Monday mornings to get to his classes on time and then leave as soon as he could on Thursday or Friday to return and support his family and community.
Despite the long commute and the continuing challenge of finding long-term housing, Martin was an excellent student, and only missed a couple days during the entire program, Bain said.
“He was fantastic,” Bain said. “He would always ask questions. He had to understand every principle of everything, and that was refreshing because rarely do we get people that want to ask all those questions. He was very involved in the classroom and in the shop.”
Martin was recognized as the top student in his class even before earning recognition as the Student of the Year. Stephens said his attendance, attitude, comprehension and skills set him apart from his classmates even as he continued to help his peers.
“When we talked to everyone on campus and got input, it was overwhelming,” Stephens said. “Everyone on campus knew Ryan and everybody on campus had something amazing to say about him. He understands who he is and he understands his responsibility to others, so he just stood out in every department.”
After completing his certificate program, Martin shared his story at the commencement ceremonies held May 7. It was there that many of his classmates and their families learned about all the hard work Martin was doing when he left school on the weekends.
Serving his community on the Navajo Nation
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, the Navajo Nation was one of the hardest hit communities in the entire United States. When classes were postponed, Martin returned home to devote himself to the relief efforts that provided critical supplies to families and individuals in need.
“There were so many families relying on us that it was all hands on deck for more than a year,” said Alicia Martin, Ryan Martin’s older sister and the relief organization’s leader. “Ryan was really important keeping the vehicles running and delivering supplies – water, firewood, fresh produce and even medications.”
Alicia Martin recalled a couple occasions when Ryan Martin would make the 200-plus mile return trip from St. George only to switch vehicles as soon as he got home and begin driving for hours more to distribute aid.
The vehicles involved in the relief efforts were used frequently and traveled across thousands of miles of unpaved roads and across difficult terrain, so he found ample opportunity to practice his developing skills as a mechanic and even as a diesel technician.
Despite the hours and hours of labor he’s devoted to his service, Ryan Martin has never asked for a dime.
“I’ve already done quite a bit of work on other people’s vehicles, and I never ask for anything,” he said. “It’s hard to charge family. I just leave it alone. They’re living in a worse condition than I am, and I just want to help with whatever I can.”
Since his graduation, he’s continued to assist in delivering supplies and has even added air conditioning repair and installation to his list of skills.
At just 20 years old, Ryan Martin has a lot of life ahead of him. He’s said he’s interested in continuing his education and trying to help his people by teaching them and maybe someday employing several of them in a business of his own.
“Right now I’m working on getting my CDL (commercial driver’s license),” Martin said. “So that’s the further education I’m pursuing right now. Other than that, I’ll just see what I can do from there. I don’t know how the future is going to go, but I hope it’s something great.”
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