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Martha J.

by Chris Sorensen |

Martha J. DeMers

1918 - 2003

MISSOULA - Martha J. DeMers was born Martha Elizabeth Jenkins on July 26, 1918 in Hysham to Leonard and Pearl (Kilpatraick) Jenkins.

"I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others."-Amelia Earhart.

On Nov. 25, 2003, Martha "Mike" DeMers, a pioneering woman pilot, devoted mother, teacher, and special friend to all who were privileged to know her, surrendered at last to her failing body. Her courage and perseverance over the past decade, despite the disabling effects of cancer, osteoporosis, and Parkinson's disease will remain an inspiration to all who were a part of her life.

Martha completed her undergraduate studies in pre-med at the University of Montana, and in 1939 enrolled in Montana's largest Civilian Pilot Training program (CPT). The program was set up through the Johnson Flying Service, located at the present site of Sentinel High School in Missoula. Despite the obvious challenges, as reflected in this quote from the 1953 Viking Publication of the book Tall Timber Pilots, "…the boys were inclined to be condescending toward a female who looked more at home in the Kappa Delta house…" Martha became known by the nickname Mike," and qualified as one of the very few women CPT instructors in the entire country.

In 1940, she was one of only 33 licensed female pilots, and a year later she became the only Montana woman to complete the two-year CPT course. She helped train more than 4,000 World War II pilots at Johnson Flying Service. On April 25, 1996, Martha was inducted into the Museum of Mountain Flying's Aviation Hall of Fame at the Missoula International Airport.

In 1943, Martha married Hoyt DeMers, who was a pilot with Johnson Flying Service before and after World War II, during which he was an officer and pilot in the Navy. They had two children before the end of the war, and in 1946, Martha chose to limit her aviation activities to only pleasure flying. She later went back to the University of Montana to get her teaching credentials, and was a seventh and eighth grade Franklin School teacher for 13 years. She and her husband divorced in 1963, and soon thereafter Martha returned to the University of Montana for a Master's Degree in Library Science. She was the librarian at Paxson School for nine years before retiring in 1976.

Martha pursued many interests throughout the course of her life. She loved to go fishing; the Salmon Lake cabin was her second home. She spent many summers as a councilor and assistant director at Camp Watanopa at Seeley Lake for the Campfire Girls. In her younger years, she golfed, played softball and basketball, and was a member of the bowling team that won the Montana State tournament in 1956.

In recent years, she could be seen riding a four-wheel bicycle with dual bucket seats sporting an orange flag flying from a rather lengthy pole. Her daughter admonished her for taking the bike out in five o'clock traffic. "Mom, a truck is going to run over you!" Her curt response was not wholly unexpected, "Well now, that's their problem, isn't it?"
Martha was preceded in death by her parents; brothers, Leslie and Howard Jenkins; and nephews, Michael and Vance Jenkins.

She is survived by her daughter, Martha Kay Hale of Missoula; sons, Louis Hoyt DeMers and his wife, Sharon of Seattle; her niece, Mary Alice Fenton and her husband, Ward of Billings; her nephews, Herb Jenkins and his wife, Judy of Whidbey Island, Wash., Howard Jenkins and his wife, Carol of Benecia, Calif.; her grandsons, Shane Hale of Missoula, Davis Christopher of Oklahoma City, and Austin McDougall of Seattle; her granddaughters, Shannon Hale of Atlanta, Shevaun Hale of Seattle, Sheila Bernstein of her husband, Jason of Bellingham, Wash., and Kristina Ray of Seattle.

A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 1, at Montana Cremation and Memorial Society, 3035 S. Russell, Missoula.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials in Martha's name to either the Museum of Mountain Flying or the American Parkinson's Disease Association.