If I told you that Martin Matchey died, you might say you were sorry to hear that, but you didn't think you knew him.
If I told you "Marty The Meat Man" died, you would probably say, "Oh, no! Not Marty. He was everybody's favorite."
And then you would probably bow your head in sadness, get a big lump in your throat, maybe shed a tear and say, "God rest his soul."
Everybody knew "Marty The Meat Man" at Festival Foods in Onalaska. He was often waving to the crowd while riding in the Festival's big grocery cart in local parades. He was a mainstay behind the meat counter at the Onalaska Festival store. Marty was indeed "the face" of Festival Foods in Onalaska.
Marty (pictured) died from pancreatic cancer last Friday. I knew of his illness because Festival founder and close friend Dave Skogen emailed me in early July to tell me Marty was retiring after learning he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Dave, knowing I have been battling pancreatic cancer since May 8, 2015, asked if I would phone Marty and chat with him.
I called Marty at his home in Blair a day or so later. Marty was in good spirits, but very evasive about the treatment protocol. I attempted to comfort him the best I could.
During our conversation, Marty asked if my wife, Kathy, and I wanted to attend his retirement party at Dash Park in Onalaska. I told Marty that Dave had already invited us when he emailed me. I assured Marty we would be there.
"I don't know why Dave is doing this for me," Marty said. "He's putting up a tent, serving some food and everything I guess. He's going all out which is very nice, but I don't know why he is going to all this trouble for an old butcher like me."
I'll always remember Monday, July 23, 2018. I had my regular labs and CT scan earlier that day. Then as promised, Kathy and I attended Marty's retirement party.
It was a warm, sunny day with several people in attendance that we didn't know, although we knew all the butchers from the meat department in Onalaska as well as the store directors from other Festival stores.
Dave spoke. So did Gary Skogen, Dave's brother. Onalaska Festival store director Keith Buswell also spoke. All three shared one story after another about "the face" of the Onalaska store.
Marty and his wife, Joan, sat front and center before the speakers. Marty smiled from ear to ear, shaking his head in disbelief from the humorous stories Dave, Gary and Keith told.
"Marty started with us in 1990, the year we opened our first Festival," Dave said early Tuesday. "Marty boomeranged more guests back to Festival than perhaps anyone, including myself.
"Marty enjoyed serving and enriching lives of others," Dave added. "He taught the guest what to buy and how to cook it - a skill set that few meat associates have."
Yet, Marty's greatest skill was bringing smiles to Festival's customers whom he served with joy and laughter for 28 years.
Rest In Peace, Marty the Meat Man. Hopefully, we will meet up with you again some day.