A place to sit, think and talk at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary has been dedicated to Elmer and Phyllis Martens.

Friends gathered at the seminary, part of Fresno Pacific University, April 12, 2024, to remember the couple. Speakers included two of the Martens’ four children, Fran Martens Friesen, M.A., associate professor of English and director of the writing program at FPU, and Lauren Martens, a former community organizer and Colorado State Council Director with Service Employees International Union.

“What I remember most was his desire to share his faith and his church with everyone around him,” Fran said of her father. “He took countless neighbors to church and kids to VBS, and other kid-friendly events. He also regularly opened his home to neighbors for Bible studies and church families as well as missionary families. Church—the community of the people of God—was always, always forefront in his mind and heart.”

A strong believer in the power of personal connection, Elmer would be pleased to know a conversation corner had been created, and that Phyllis was included, Fran added. “He considered them partners in their mission to God, church and neighbors.”

For her part, Phyllis was very perceptive and inquisitive. “She read mysteries, quantum physics and philosophy, and took theology classes at the seminary. As our sister, Karen, wrote: ‘Her search for authentic faith led her to read and ponder spiritual matters, not willing to settle for anything less than what was real and true in her experience, critically thinking through what spirituality meant for her community and the world,” Lauren said.

“Phyllis contributed to the church and the Mennonite Brethren community in many different ways throughout her life. We hope that in the spirit of Phyllis and Elmer, this memorial seating area serves as the site for many insightful, caring and meaningful conversations,” Lauren said. 

Other speakers included former seminary presidents and faculty members Larry Martens and Lynn Jost as well as Rhonda Dueck, who oversaw the project. 

Elmer and Phyllis Martens were married for 60 years, meeting when he was a student at the seminary and she was teaching at Pacific Bible Institute (now FPU). Elmer, 86, died September 21, 2016, and Phyllis, 88, died October 1 the same year. The couple lived in Fresno and both were active in their congregation, North Fresno MB Church, the wider church and internationally.

Elmer Martens, Ph.D., was a writer, scholar, professor of Old Testament and former president of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary) and first pastor of Butler Avenue MB Church, Fresno. Phyllis Martens taught at Pacific Bible Institute, was also a published author and a counselor in local public schools. She played piano and organ at Butler and North Fresno churches.

Read a tribute to both at: Elmer and Phyllis Martens | University News (fresno.edu)

PHOTO: Lauren Friesen and Fran Martens Friesen try out the conversation space at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, on the Fresno Pacific University main campus, that honors their parents, Elmer and Phyllis Martens, following the dedication ceremony. (FPU photo)



Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations