|Left to right: Samson Martinez, '16; Kristynn Garza Lind, '16;
Caleb Garza, '16; Arnold Garza, '16; Alyssa Martinez, '16
By Lucas Beechinor, '09
Samson Martinez, '16, recalls a story his grandpa repeated to him when he was younger. A little boy picks cotton with his family in a field in Texas. A school bus passes the field every morning, and the boy stares after it, wishing he were riding along, determined his kids will be on it someday.
Zenaido Martinez III, with his wife, Meagan
Although Zenaido Martinez, Sr., the young boy in the field, attended school only through the third grade, he made sure his kids were on that bus. All nine of his children graduated high school, and five cousins from the family are currently attending Whitworth; Samson is the third grandchild to attend.
Samson's older brother, Saul Martinez, '13, fondly remembers going home to Pasco, Wash., for the weekend during his Whitworth days and dealing with his younger brother's gentle ridicule. "He said I was becoming more of a nerd each time I visited home," says Saul, who currently works as an administrative assistant at Baker Boyer Wealth Management, in Kennewick, Wash. He earned B.A. in business management at Whitworth. The little brother "claimed to not be the Whitworth type," Saul says, with a smile, "but after he attended a Why Whitworth event and stayed with me in my dorm, he was hooked. Now I get to tease him."
It isn't uncommon for siblings to follow in each other's footsteps when choosing a college. It is less common when five cousins, all about the same age and in the same class, attend the same college at the same time. Such is the case for the five Martinez and Garza cousins, who are now sophomores at Whitworth. Athletics was a major attraction for the group; Saul played golf for Whitworth, and Samson (who was an RA in McMillan Hall last semester) is currently on the team. Caleb Garza, '16, is a running back for Pirate football, and Alyssa Martinez, '16, plays catcher/infield on the softball team. Arnold Garza, '16, isn't on a varsity team at Whitworth, but he plays intramurals, as do his cousins. Kristynn (Garza) Lind, '16, limits her involvement in athletics to joining her cousins as often as possible for some rounds of urban golf. This sport is especially popular among the group right now, and they play together as often as they can.
Athletics was a major draw for the cousins, but a strong, small and welcoming academic community steeped in faith was the main driver for all of them, and Whitworth filled the bill. As a high school senior, Saul saw that Whitworth had the academic programs he was looking for and respected faculty members to study under; he knew it would be a great place to attend, and his cousins followed suit not long after he made his decision.
"I would describe my relationship with my first cousins as comparable to the relationship between brothers and sisters," Saul says. "In our culture, a cousin could be anybody who comes from the same bloodline, not limited to any number of generations back, as long as you can track it. This is why we end up having a lot of cousins, and there is a sense of pride throughout the whole family to see the others succeed in life."
This close relationship helps keep family members accountable to and for each other, he says. Saul, who graduated last May, says he loves seeing his little brother involved with student body leadership. "It also makes me happy to know my family is safe, having a good time, and working hard to be successful in life after college," he says.
While the cousins were growing up together, they were fiercely competitive with one another. "Everything we did, we were competing with each other," Arnold says. "It didn't matter what we were doing." Some of that competitive spirit drives the family members at Whitworth, as well.
It isn't all competition, however. Alyssa, a psychology major, says they often find themselves sharing similar challenges, goals and frustrations as each season begins. She relies on her cousins for support as much as she does her teammates and coaches. "It's that family aspect that is so nice to have," she says.
"Those people push you in ways beyond athletics and you don't want to be the person who is not doing your best all
The small-community aspect was also an important factor for each of them as they chose to attend Whitworth. "Whitworth keeps us connected," says Kristynn, who married Pirates wide receiver Devon Lind, '14, also from Othello, in 2011. Kristynn says this helped her make the transition from a bigger city like Seattle, because in some ways it felt like coming home. Both Kristynn and Alyssa compare the Whitworth community to Othello. "Not only do I have family members here, but I've made family members here. Community is a huge thing for us," Alyssa says.
But how did the family discover Whitworth in the first place? Samson and Saul's aunt Angelica (Martinez) Vargas, '04, was the first family member to visit the campus and apply. "I could feel where God was calling me," she says. "I knew God would use me at Whitworth to be a light for him." However, the cost of tuition was an immediate barrier. One
of her sisters and then-Vice President for Student Life Kathy Storm intervened on her behalf, and the financial aid office came up with a package that ultimately allowed her to attend. "It still brings me to tears thinking about it," says Angelica, who is now married with one daughter.
"It was something God was showing me, an example of his faithfulness to me
and our family." Angelica's father is Samson and Saul's grandpa, the boy who watched the school bus drive by the field each morning.
Angelica's positive Whitworth experience was something that led her nephew, Zenaido Martinez III, to check out the school. Zenaido says he wasn't necessarily looking for a Christian
school; he was more interested in high academic standards.
He studied in Mexico one summer, and re-dedicated his life to God on that trip. "One weekend we were parasailing together, and they couldn't bring me down for whatever reason," Zenaido says. "So I was up there for an hour and 15 minutes. It was during this period that I dedicated myself to God. Something happened up there that just changed me, and I saw God in a whole new light. When I came back down they looked at me and they said, 'You look different.' My life changed from that moment on."
Zenaido played football for the Pirates, but transferred to Evangel University after his sophomore year. He earned a bachelor's degree in business and went on to earn an MBA from Colorado Christian University. Today he is married, with four children, and he works as an operations engineer at the Hanford nuclear site.
After admitting, laughing, that "Unfortunately, I beat up on them [the pesky younger cousins] quite a bit!", Zenaido says the three words that betray his love for them and his pride in their accomplishments. It might be the unofficial motto of the Martinezes and Garzas: "Family is everything," he says. He, his aunts and cousins have fulfilled the dream of an education that Zenaido, Sr., had for their family.