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A Winning Combination : Hispanic Parents of 15 Children Rely on Teamwork at Home, on the Job

September 03, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

Pete Martin says his philosophy is that it is hard to predict what life will bring. For instance, he says, he and his wife, Micaela, sure did not plan on having 15 children. And he remains amazed and gratified by the success of his once-struggling business.

But the latest surprise came Saturday night when the Martin family, of Downey, won the 1987 Hispanic Family of the Year award.

"You never know what is hiding in what you do. Who would have thought that 15 children would bring us this?" Martin said.

Twenty-eight members of the extended Martin family were on hand at the Los Angeles Hilton to receive the award and an accompanying $5,000 scholarship. "We haven't had a chance to get together and decide what to do with the money," Martin said, explaining that the award must be used for education.

The Martins were one of 10 families nominated for the award. A panel of judges selected the Martins based on community service, family teamwork and individual and spiritual growth, said Bernie Kemp, board chairman of the Hispanic Family of the Year Foundation. The award also earned the Martins a nomination to become a Great American Family and a chance to win a trip to the White House.

Such recognition was unthinkable in August, 1954, when Martin, his wife and three children arrived in Los Angeles from their native Jalisco, Mexico. Martin found work as a buyer at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles, earning $80 a week while Micaela tended the small house they rented. After a short time, Martin left his job at the Farmer's Market to take a financial management position with Product Techniques Inc., a company that applies coatings to aerospace products.

In Jalisco, Martin had worked as a financial manager for a textile factory and dreamed of one day owning his own business. So after nine years at Product Techniques, he took what he had learned there and did just that. He left his $400-a-week job and opened his own business, Martin Metal Finishing in Lakewood, a company that also provides coatings for airplanes and other aerospace products.

Martin shook his head as he recalled his first week in business--he earned just $50. But the company that began with three employees now has a work force of 300, and the once-struggling business is expected to do $10 million to $12 million in sales this year. Among its biggest projects was painting the dome that houses the Spruce Goose, the airplane of Howard Hughes that is a Long Beach tourist attraction.

During an interview in which Martin and his wife were joined by 28 members of their extended family, it was proudly revealed that the company's work force includes 11 of their 15 children, who range in age from 14 to 37. They work in management, production, clerical and most every other department of the company's three plants in Lakewood, Stockton and Rosarito in Baja California.

"It is remarkable because so many kids do not want to do what their parents do," Martin said. "We have unity at home, at the business and at church."

Family unity is a source of great pride, and is partly sustained through the Martins' ties to their Latino heritage. Martin has expanded his business to include the plant in Mexico managed by one of his sons. All the children are bilingual, and the walls of their home are decorated with Mexican art.

Shared Responsibility

But there is also a practical side to family unity--like the many ways their parents kept track of so many Martins, the children recalled with amusement.

"When we were young, we were always supposed to know where our other brothers and sisters were," said Gemma Martin. "Everybody was usually in charge of somebody else."

Another tactic was to require the children to fill out permission slips each time they left the house. The slips, tacked to a bulletin board in the kitchen, told the child's destination, whom he was with, what he was doing and when he would return.

"And if we said we'd be home at 11, we had to be home by 10:30," said Rick Martin, as the other children laughed knowingly.

Any young man who wanted to date one of the Martin girls first had to pass muster with their father. "My dad would have done whatever he had to do if we were in the wrong crowd," Rick Martin said.

Religion Emphasized

The Martins, who are Catholic, emphasize the importance of religion in their family life. All their children went to parochial school, although Martin said the tuition payments were sometimes hard to make.

"Ever since we were small, we always had God in our lives," said daughter Irene Romero.

After living in a series of too-small houses, the Martins 13 years ago bought their current residence, an 8,600-square-foot home in Downey. The L-shaped house boasts 12 to 14 bedrooms (depending on how the partitions are used), six bathrooms, a dining room equipped with a table and chairs for 18, two washers and two dryers, and two 150-gallon water heaters.

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