Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
When John Geer Martin was just a little boy he told his mother he had a dream. He was going to own a big horse farm. He housed his horses in the detached garage by his house on Waller Street in Portsmouth, Scioto County, Ohio. He went out to Scioto fairgrounds regularly. As he grew he knew that whatever he did it must involve horses. His father sent him to Blacksburg to VPI where he studied engineering. But he really wanted to be with his horses.
When World War II started he was one of the first to register. He became a cargo pilot and flew the Hump. His daughter and this compiler have all the letters he wrote home to his mother. Among them he told her he would name his farm “Jomar” for John Martin. He could already visualize what it would look like. He also acknowledged that engineering was not for him and that he truly wanted to be a veterinarian. When the war was over, he went to Ohio State University, married, dabbled in journalism and finally with a DVM degree in hand moved across the river to Kentucky.
His wife, Mary Helen Feyler had made a childhood friend with a circus that had been in Portsmouth. By the time they married she was taking him to meet her friends. She often joked that his dream farm Jomar stood for John and Mary not just John Martin. And over the next few years the network of circus associations grew along with his reputation as a circus animal doctor.
In 1961 the dream became a reality. Martin had purchased acreage in Boyd County, Kentucky at Cannonsburg. With the help of his dear friend Michael Polakoff, aka Coco the Clown, they cleared the land. I remember huge stacks of brambles and sticks and fires. One of the funny incidences was when “Uncle” Mike was sent to get a tractor just down the road. By dusk he was nowhere to be found and the call came “Doc I am in a town called Catlettsburg and I am lost.” He had driven that tractor all afternoon when it should have been a ten minute ride.
Painting by John Geer Martin
As the house was being built my father ordered brass plaques for the gates he designed. JOMAR on one side and his name on the other. His dream became a reality. To celebrate he invited many of his circus friends. It must had been the first time that the circus community knew he was calling the farm JOMAR. They were quick to ask if it was named for John Ringling North’s circus car Jomar. The car had been named for John and Mable Ringling. My parents, surprised were quick to tell everyone their story and agreed it was a serendipity moment to tie his loves together. The county named the newly graveled road Jomar Road.
For a while the train car was used by Rudy Bundy and in the 1960’s my father toured the “graveyard” of circus wagons and old trains rusting and off the track in Florida. There is a short grainy film he shot showing the burning of beautiful circus wagons and the train standing abandoned in the background.
Jomar in Boyd County, Kentucky was full of laughter, horses and circus friends for many years. Besides the wonderful saddle bred horses that we showed, several retired circus horses lived out their lives on Jomar. Ringling boarded a beautiful stallion named Royal resplendent with his Kings Range brand. Royal, retired from the circuit, lived out a happy life with our family. Hanniford’s left two retired horses to pasture. Robin who was notorious for scratching his huge back, breaking the fence, usually when my father was out of town; leaving mother to chatter away at him as he followed her back across where he belonged. The second horse Sherry was a gentle white and my son John got the honor of taking a ride when he was small.
My husband and I were excited when an auction in the Zanesville, Ohio area advertised circus items. Circus Fans came from all over to bid on what appeared to be mostly posters. However, my eyes quickly found the familiar Jomar china in one lot. I remember my husband and I wondering if Circus Fans would realize the value and history of the china but resolved we would add the items to Jomar in Kentucky. As we began to bid I realized that the group was all looking my way. Apparently, while I thought I was unknown, these fans knew Jomar and in honor of my parents nodded and did not bid.
One of the items my parents did not have in the hodgepodge of china was any coffee cups. Jennie Howerton, mother of Dr. Paul Savage, in Ashland, Kentucky matched the burgandy lettering color perfectly creating a set of six porcelain cups. While a bit more dainty than the heavy original Jomar china it is a nice addition.
This is not genealogy but is the provenance of something that our family treasures and is as much a part of our history as our lineage. The provenance of artifacts in history are as important as the people who utilized them.
Today Jomar in Kentucky sits quietly, in need of fence repair and laughter. My father passed away in 1999. My mother is still matriarch at Jomar but Alzheimers has stolen her memories. There is talk of restoration of the Ringling rail car Jomar that was in such disrepair so many years ago and its history is well documented.
The history of Jomar in Kentucky and the legacy my parents left will continue. My father loved many things in life including flying and journalism. When he retired from veterinary medicine he decided to write. He wrote two war histories and two books about his life as a veterinarian. Doc My Tiger’s Got An Itch tells a few of the many tales he had as an assistant veterinarian with Ringling and as veterinarian of many other small shows including Mills Brothers now also only a memory. So many beloved friends – human and animal.
Our first son is named for his grandfather. John’s wife is Marina. Serendipity! Jomar lives on.