Emil Martinka didn’t let age stop his desire to continue serving. After a successful business career, he signed on to work at Big Cedar and retired after 28 years. Colleagues, including Bass Pro and Big Cedar founder Johnny Morris, celebrated his service in an event that had been delayed two years due to COVID restrictions. (Contributed photo)


It’s not often you get to meet a World War II veteran who has lived more fruitful lives than most of us dream to. As soon as I saw Emil Martinka’s picture, I was smitten and knew I had to know more about him. What I found out blew me away. 

At the prime age of 97 years young, Emil was celebrating having served 28 years in security at Big Cedar Lodge and was being recognized by his coworkers for his many years of service as a team member and veteran for our country.

I first spotted Emil’s story through Jeff Wilhoit’s LinkedIn post: 

“At 97 years old Emil Martinka finally decided to retire this week at Big Cedar Lodge. What an amazing man that fought for our country during World War II, had a successful career in Minnesota, then moved to the Ozarks and started his second career at Big Cedar driving a shuttle and working at Top of the Rock for the last 28 years. Incredible example of the greatest generation!”

Jeff was kind enough to share Emil’s retirement video, which highlighted Emil’s amazing life story. Emil was born in 1925 — a year of American entrepreneurship and innovation: Chrysler was founded, Sears Roebuck opened in Chicago, the Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting, and Ford introduced its first truck, the Ford model T!

As World War II struck, Emil answered the call of duty in 1943 and signed up for the U.S. Navy, where he served for 18 months in the European Theater as a landing craft tank operator. Returning home from the war in 1946, Emil got married and raised two children in Minnesota, where he led a successful career as a real estate businessman for many years. 

Throughout the years, Emil has enjoyed fishing, baseball, golfing and mostly, working with his Big Cedar family.

Emil Martinka was honored for his 28 years of service to Big Cedar Lodge. (Contributed photo)

The video revealed Emil’s character as he walked into a room filled with co-workers and admirers. He was intentional as he took time to recognize each person, calling them by name and shaking their hand. From their expressions, you could tell Emil had made an indelible impact on them. As one person stated in his retirement video, “If there was an Emmy or Academy Award for the model associate, you would take the crown. However, our praise for you is your service and sacrifice to our country and all of us in this room.” 

Praise from Johnny Morris

Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Founder, Johnny Morris agreed: “Emil, you’re the heart and soul of this place. We love you!” Emil was humbled by the outpouring of love and gratitude. His genuine servant’s spirit could be seen as he ensured others were recognized and thanked for taking time to stop by and wish him well.

There’s much to learn from a man of integrity like Emil. He walks with gratitude and love for America, understanding freedom comes with a cost and sacrifice. I could write for days of my admiration and appreciation for the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom. 

Emil realized America is the greatest place to live with opportunities just waiting to be discovered. As an entrepreneur, Emil understood opportunity and hard work go together, as he weathered both good and slow markets and earned an income to support his family.

His natural way of seeing the value in people, his business successfully grew. He balanced work, family and pleasure, recognizing that being active and outdoors not only is good for the soul but for his health. 

Finding the good in people

He didn’t let age stop his desire to continue serving as he signed on to work at Big Cedar in his late 60s. While many label this season as retirement, Emil welcomed his second career. He treasured and valued relationships, beginning with his family, yet he also enjoyed greeting all types of visitors to Big Cedar. In the video Emil quickly replied that his favorite part of working at Big Cedar/Top of the Rock was meeting people. Emil saw the uniqueness in people and found the good in everyone. What a marvelous idea, finding the good in people!

Lastly, Emil is dedicated and loyal. He saw the value of our country and without hesitation was willing to serve. He didn’t get caught up in crazy rhetoric, rather he saw the beauty and opportunity our country allows. He knew freedom was worth fighting for and defending. Big Cedar Lodge’s leadership was medicinal for Emil, a family that embraced his attributes and characteristics. Emil was able to shine in his role in security and he treated everyone with dignity and respect.

Emil is family, and as Jeanie Morris, wife of Johnny Morris, conveyed on his retirement day, “We’re going to miss you! We value your help so much and love being with you!”

Emil smiled the entire time as he heard those important words: “value” and “love.” Yet ironically these are the characteristics that Emil lives out every day of his 97 years. He brings value and love to all he meets. As citizens, let’s strive to be like Emil and mirror his great characteristics.

Let’s be that model associate, citizen, family member, spouse, and friend that brings value and love to all we come in contact with.

Emil closed out his retirement party by leading everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Let’s join him again, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Thank you Emil, what a model citizen you are!

Julie Higgins

Julie G. Higgins is a Springfield entrepreneur and a partner in Higgins Business Consulting. Her mantra is: “Teach with your life.” Follow her on Twitter: @julieGhiggins or email her at: juliehigg@yahoo.com More by Julie Higgins