Martha Josephine “Marta” Cantwell Meeker
A proud, patriotic Hoosier of boundless energy, perpetual curiosity, and trailblazing accomplishment was lost to us when Martha Josephine “Marta” Cantwell Meeker passed away peacefully on June 4, 2016 in Stamford, CT, after a heart attack at age 94.
Marta was born October 3, 1921, in Indianapolis, to James Frank Cantwell and Ruby Dodge Stone. He was a veteran of World Wars I and II, and an entrepreneur and builder who founded and ran the Indianapolis Home Show for nearly four decades. She was a piano teacher who, before they married, worked as a cryptographer at the U.S. War Department during World War I.
Marta was an enthusiastic lifelong learner. She graduated in 1939 from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, on the Honor Roll, having worked on the school newspaper Echo with future author Kurt Vonnegut. In 1943 Marta earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mathematics from Hollins College, with minors in Physics and Economics, graduating on the Dean’s List.
During World War II Marta volunteered to serve her country. After graduating from Midshipman School at Smith College, she received her commission as a line officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, rising to the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade) in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). She served as an Aircraft Material Officer in Washington, DC, in charge of a unit expediting equipment for Liberty Ships being outfitted as aircraft engine repair vessels. For her service Marta was awarded a World War II Victory Ribbon, an American Theatre Ribbon, and an Honorable Service pin.
After the war Marta became one of the first two women admitted to the Yale School of Architecture, where she pursued a Master’s Degree. There she met her future husband, fellow student and veteran David Olan Meeker, Jr., of Sea Cliff, Long Island, NY.
At this point events conspired to alter Marta’s life greatly. Her mother fell terminally ill with cancer. She quit Yale, returned to Indianapolis to nurse her, and married David at the family home in 1948. They settled in Indianapolis and she became a full time housewife, hanging her college diploma over the washing machine and bringing four children into the world. In those days Navy women who married or became pregnant were automatically discharged from the service. Marta was forced to resign her commission, something she deeply resented.
In 1961-62 the family lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, where David studied church architecture on a Fulbright Scholarship and Marta wrote a series of feature articles for The Indianapolis Star about her family’s life and travels in Europe.
Marta and David divorced in 1967. She never remarried. He passed away in 1987.
In 1974 Marta began work as an Account Executive with Business Furniture Corporation (BFC) of Indianapolis. During her sixteen-year career at BFC she sold top-end Steelcase and Knoll products worth millions of dollars to some of Indiana’s biggest companies, including Cummins, Eli Lilly, and Simon Property Group. Marta won multiple sales awards before retiring in 1990.
Throughout her life Marta pursued a wide variety of activities and interests. She was an avid inventor who received U.S. patents for an autonomous electric automobile (1975), customizable eyeglasses (1978), and a prefabricated utility core for small buildings (2004). She did extensive genealogical research into her family’s history, which she could recite at length from memory. Marta used her design skills to customize the dream home she built on Mallard Lake. She was also a very successful, self-taught stock trader, and a devoted Bridge player. Land use, urban planning, and the preservation of architecturally and historically significant structures were just a few of Marta’s many interests. And she loved traveling, especially with her family, visiting virtually every country in Europe and several in Africa and South America.
Marta supported and was active in many organizations, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the city’s Junior League and Fortnightly Literary Club, as well as the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Civic Ballet Society of Indianapolis. Marta was on the boards of the Indianapolis Progress Committee and the Shortridge High School Alumni Association, and served as Founder and President of the Hollins Club of Indiana and Treasurer of the Yale Club of Indiana. She was also a member of the Indiana Republican Party, the WAVES-Indiana veterans group, and a volunteer tour guide with Indiana Landmarks.
Marta lived in Indianapolis almost her entire life, and was a tireless promoter of the “Crossroads of America” and “The Hoosier State” and a dedicated Colts and Pacers fan. Above all she valued family, saying her greatest and most successful endeavor was raising her kids.
Survivors include Marta’s four children and three grandchildren: Scott Cantwell Meeker (Kathleen Ernst) and his daughter Meghan McGill Meeker of Middleton, WI; Stone Meeker Jasie (Paul) of North Reading, MA; Brett Larr Meeker (Margo) of Rowayton, CT; and Ann Stuart Meeker Wilson (Robert) of Centreville, MD, and their daughters Lydia Austin Wilson and Ruby Dodge Stone Wilson.
Marta is also survived by her sister Ann Lucille Cantwell Penrose of Darien, CT, and Ann’s three children (by Charles, Jr., deceased) and four grandchildren: James Cantwell Penrose (Buff) of New York, NY, and their daughters Julia Christine Penrose Togneri (John) and Charlotte Hunter Penrose; Thomas Penrose of Norwalk, CT; and John Rowan Penrose (Fatima) of Wayland, MA, and their daughter Isabel Ezzat Penrose and son Benjamin Hassouna Penrose.
There will be a public viewing from 4-8 PM, on Friday, June 17th, at Flanner & Buchanan – Broad Ripple. A memorial service will be held at 10 AM, Saturday, June 18th, at the Meridian Street United Methodist Church, where Marta was a lifelong member. Interment with US Navy honors will take place immediately afterwards at the Crown Hill Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Marta’s memory to Indiana Landmarks.