‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Nashville’s ‘Encourager in Chief’ lost to COVID-19


Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Martin Travelstead

City/Town: Nashville

Age: 81

Died: April 5

When Martin Travelstead smiled, his whole face lit up.

That smile was even apparent as he passed due to complications from COVID-19 on April 5.

Travelstead, 81, was the first resident to die of COVID-19 in Brown County.

He had the Travelstead family smile, “a big, toothy smile,” his daughter Robin Travelstead Merritt said.

Martin had been admitted to Johnson Memorial Hospital the morning of April 4. He had been sick for four or five days before he died on April 5.

Due to pandemic restrictions on hospital visitors, Martin’s wife, Shirley, and his two children, Robin and Scott, could not be in person at his bedside. But thanks to an intensive care unit nurse, they were able to Facetime him.

An ongoing joke between Shirley and Martin was that whenever Martin arrived in Heaven, he would have a full head of hair again, because he was “as bald as a cucumber,” their son Scott Travelstead said.

After the ventilator had been turned down and the sedation began to fade a bit to allow him to hear his family, Shirley joked with Martin one last time, causing his signature smile to appear before he parted this world.

“It was probably 15 minutes later, he just kind of closed his eyes, took his last breath, and that was it,” Scott said.

Shirley was tested for COVID-19 on March 31 and received positive results on April 4. She survived.

Travelstead served as a deacon for more than 50 years and was the senior deacon at Unity Baptist Church in Brown County. Merritt said people often came to him for perspective.

He was retired from AT&T. He had served in the United States Army from June 1957 to June 1960 as a rank sergeant and as a field radio repairman and mechanic.

Travelstead had been on the diving team with the Army. He loved swimming and diving with his great-grandchildren and body-surfing with his son.

He served for 11 years with the Brown County Honor Guard, including as commander for three and a half years.

He was also on the school board for more than 12 years, starting in 1976. He was on the board when now-Superintendent Laura Hammack was hired as a teacher.

“Martin was an ‘Encourager in Chief.’ He was relentless in offering optimism and support for programs that lifted up the youth of our community,” Hammack said.

— Contributed by the Brown County Democrat