After living across the street from Picayune Memorial High School for 54 years, one mother finally got the diploma she’d begun studying for there nearly 80 years ago.
Katherine Summers Martensen is 97 years old now, but when she was a teenager she had to leave high school during the 11th grade to help support her family during the Great Depression and World War II, she said.
After growing up in Logtown and moving to Picayune when her father’s general store closed in 1938, Martensen attended Picayune Memorial High, starting in the ninth grade, her daughter Kathi Martensen Irwin said.
But when her father got a job in Meridian, it wasn’t enough to support the family, so Martensen and her sister left school and went to work.
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As one of the many “Rosie the Riveters” who began working in manufacturing jobs during the war, Martensen enrolled in a shop class prior to patching airplanes in Meridian, she said.
When the war ended, the family moved back to Picayune, where Martensen worked in a hardware store, Irwin said, adding that’s where she met her husband, Harold.
They settled down in a white house on Third Street, across from the school to which she would send her children.
“I always had in mind to go back and get my diploma, but I never achieved that,” Martensen said.
Instead, she said, she lived vicariously through the achievements of her children, who all graduated from PMHS and Pearl River Community College.
But on May 2, she had the surprise of her life when PMHS Principal Kent Kirkland and school district Superintendent Dean Shaw came to the Lakeview Shepherd Center in New Orleans to present her with an honorary diploma.
“It was just unbelievable,” Martensen said, “never had the idea that I’d ever own the diploma.”
After Martensen wrote a story at the center about her experiences and her inability to finish her high school career, Lakeview Shepherd Center Director Donna Murrell decided to contact the school.
The presentation was a surprise to Martensen, even as members of the center dressed her in a cap and gown that morning.
But when she heard “Pomp and Circumstance,” her face lit up, Irwin said.
“I have never seen her so happy,” she said.
With her children by her side, Martensen finally achieved her goal of obtaining her high school diploma.
Kirkland and Shaw said they’ve never done anything like that before.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” Kirkland said. “We both enjoyed going down there. It was a great honor to meet her and present her with the diploma.”
Until two years ago, Martensen still lived in Picayune across the street from the practice football field.
“I remember when I was coaching football several years back,” Kirkland said. “I would see Mrs. Summers working in her yard over there.”
But until this week, he didn’t make the connection.
“It was a tremendous blessing for Coach Kirkland and I to see the excitement she had,” Shaw said. “She loves the community of Picayune and she loves Picayune Memorial High School.”
“She even gave us a ‘Roll Tide, roll,’” Kirkland said.