Janesville police officer gives widow reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day
JANESVILLE When Janesville police officer Bryan Naber visited Shirley Martin the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, she greeted him with a smile and thanks.
"Then she hugged me and kissed me," he said.
Naber, 40, met Martin on Thanksgiving Day when he responded to a report of a pulseless nonbreather.
Martin had awakened that morning to find her husband, Gene, had died in his sleep. Naber arrived shortly after Martin called 911.
"I spent most of the time talking to her in the kitchen," Naber said.
Naber learned Martin was Norwegian, and he told her that his mother-in-law is Norwegian.
"We talked about Norwegian baked goods and lefse, and she seemed pretty interested in the lefse. I told her I should bring some over to her that my mother-in-law makes every year, but she didn't necessarily believe I would," Naber said.
He learned it had been a tradition for the Martins, who had been married 23 years, to dine out Thanksgiving Day at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
"That instantly made her sad because that was their plan for the day," Naber said.
He offered to accompany her to the local restaurant, but Martin graciously declined.
"Any other time I would have been more than happy to do that, but my emotions were so raw at the time I couldn't eat anything," Martin said.
"For him to offer to take me to Cracker Barrel was just an awesome gesture that he did out of the kindness of his heart," she said.
When it came time for Naber to leave the Martin residence, he worried about leaving her alone.
"They had some family in Indiana, but they couldn't be here immediately," he said.
Naber couldn't stop thinking about how Thanksgiving might be ruined for Martin for the rest of her life.
After taking his Thanksgiving lunch break at his in-laws, Naber's mother-in-law gave him some lefse and pumpkin pie for Martin.
Martin, who was being visited by friends, saw Naber walk up her driveway.
"She commented she could see me with the bag of lefse, and that seemed to make her happy," Naber said.
"I was more than surprised that he could come back with that for me, and I was delighted because the lefse was so wonderful and the only thing I ate that day," Martin said.
Naber couldn't help but think of his own mother while visiting Martin.
"My dad had a heart attack (a year ago) last Easter. So, I'm thinking that could be my mom just a different holiday," he said.
"I just enjoy when I can make somebody else a little happier and know when they're hurting make a portion of that hurt temporarily go away," he said.
And he did.
"When I came back with the lefse and pumpkin pie, that look in her eyes, the smile on her face and when she gave me a big hug and a kiss, that to me that's where it's at," Naber said.
"It meant the world to me that he cared enough that I was going to miss my dinner. It was just a wonderful thing, he did," Martin said.
Finding enjoyment in helping others is why Naber became a police officer, he said.
"You always want to help people," he said.
But he doesn't think his act of kindness was a big deal.
"It's just what we do," he said.
Martin said police officers and paramedics in Janesville are outstanding.
"I don't think they get enough praise for what they do. So when something like this comes up, it has to be mentioned," she said.