Getting Personal: Martha 'Marti' Wilkinson

Getting Personal: Martha 'Marti' Wilkinson

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Paul Wood chats with Martha "Marti" Wilkinson, 45, (she'll be 46 on Halloween) of Champaign. She sells advertising to businesses and gives them an opportunity to promote their products and relate it to a positive community function (often high school athletics).

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

Typically, I try to be up within an hour to an hour and a half before I have to be at work. I have a friend and co-worker who I carpool with, so I try to get out pretty early. Depending on what projects we are working on, my work hours are often subject to change.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Being a 10-year breast cancer survivor is very important to me. I was diagnosed at the age of 35, and the survival rates for women under 40 are lower. So just being alive at this point is something to be grateful for. I actually buzzed my hair off a few months ago to commemorate my 10 years and have grown it out into a pixie. I also consider going back to school in my late 30s and earning my master's at the age of 42 to be important. I wanted my daughter to see me walk the stage and get my degree.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

My late uncle Gordon Lindstrom gave me an antique buffet that had belonged to my maternal grandfather, and I have a quilt that my grandmother made for me when I was a kid. So I tend to treasure family gifts and heirlooms.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

Trashy novels, aka "bodice rippers." The ability to borrow books online has enabled me to maintain this habit. I believe the library classification is that of "historical fiction" ... I prefer to just call it trashy.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I've been indulging in my guilty pleasures by reading Mary Balogh and Suzanne Enoch. I've also been working my way through "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. One of my favorite books is "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. My parents taught me to be an avid reader by example, and my tastes can be pretty eclectic.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

My maternal great-grandmother came to the United States from Denmark, and I would like to visit the country someday. I've considered the possibility of taking a European cruise to see various places and then plan for a more in-depth trip down the road.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

My parents let me pick out a cat at the humane society when I was around 10 years old. To this day, Old Kitty is a bit of a family legend. He lived to be over 20 years old and was nearly old enough to go bar hopping in human years when he passed on. Karen, my daughter, was 4 when he passed on, and I was able to explain the concept of death to her when he left. During his life, he enjoyed antagonizing the neighbor's Doberman pinscher and would usually jump or run to a safe spot so the dog couldn't get him. Old Kitty was also a vain fellow who admired himself in the mirror. He also thought he had musical talents and would often try to play my mother's piano. My mother still says they broke the mold when that cat came along. I think if Old Kitty discovered Facebook, he would have developed his own page.

What's your favorite sports team?

This sounds terrible, but I really don't have any favorites. I admire sports as a discipline and can appreciate how events bring people together. Personally, I think NASCAR drivers get high points for being very accessible to the public. That is not a quality that I have seen in other sports personalities.

What would you order for your last meal?

I have no clue. I just hope that I can still enjoy a good meal when my time comes.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Eleanor Roosevelt. She was born into great privilege, yet she had the ability to transcend and look beyond that when the country needed it. It's a quality that many of our politicians today sorely lack.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Brian May: The guy can play the guitar and still become an astrophysicist in his own time. John Lennon: His work with the Beatles and as a solo artist has managed to stand the test of time. Plus, I admired his efforts as an anti-war activist. Patti Smith: The Godmother of Punk. Honorable Mention: "Mother" Maybelle Carter, credited with developing the innovative scratch style of guitar playing that has influenced many musicians. This includes her late son-in-law, Johnny Cash.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I have many happy memories. I would definitely include having my daughter, Karen, getting my master's degree and too many other memories to choose from.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. I would want to have dinner with people who I can laugh with, and I would serve a pizza and pasta buffet.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I have to admire people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk. They believed in what they did so much that they willingly gave their lives up for the bigger ideal. Both men embody the word courage to me.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I hate it when people are judgmental, and I can often be that way myself. Sometimes our own personality defects come back to us reflected in the people around us. It's an area that I'm still working on.

What's your best piece of advice?

The Golden Rule is one that has always worked for me. I'm a pretty firm believer in karma, and I believe that my actions will result in positive or negative payback.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Actually, my first job was with The News-Gazette. I delivered papers from the age of 13 to 16, and my earnings were based on commission. In a way, it's kind of unfortunate that many of the paper delivery jobs are now being done by adults. It was a good way to earn some money and develop a work history.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

When I attended Illinois State University, I wanted to go into radio. Then I took a class in video production, and I was hooked. Later, I took advanced television production, and I was one of two women in the class. Even now, it's my observation that women are more likely to be encouraged to engage in writing, being on-air personalities or working in sales. My friend Lori Serb has done a lot of work in radio, and she has made similar observations. Some of the inequities we see in media can be observed in college classrooms and out in the field.

In grad school, I developed more of an interest in independent media and digital divides. With the increasing concentration of media ownership ,it's changed what is considered to be newsworthy. Also, I think many of our outlets of mass communication still reflect a very privileged perspective, and it's important for all people to have a voice. In regards to digital divides, the work of Eszter Hargittai has done much to illustrate how having access to technology influences what people are able to do. At the University of Illinois, both Abdul Alkalimat and Kate Williams have also done a lot of work. When UC2B was in its grant funding stage, Alkalimat held a digital divide series at the UI, and I found it very informative when doing my own research.

In reading some of the arguments surrounding UC2B, I see correlations between the objections to bringing broadband to Champaign with the rural electrification acts in the 1930s. It's hard to imagine now that people didn't see electricity, or even running water, as being necessary. Yet, it's hard to imagine people doing without these things now. I think it would be fascinating if someone did a rhetorical study and compared the two situations.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

You don't live a full life without wishing that some parts could have been handled differently. It's part of the learning process. My mistakes have also been my greatest teachers, and how I deal with them is up to me.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

That depends on the situation. Sometimes it helps to just vent to a good friend and get stuff off my chest. If there is a solution, I do what I can to work toward that. Then there are some things that have no real resolution at hand, and that is when I will pray and strive for acceptance of the situation. There have also been people and situations I've had to walk away from for my own safety and peace of mind.

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