While “Senior Housekeeper” may be her official title, to the staff and residents of Decatur House, Maria Martinez is much more.
“She’s just a wonderful person,” owner Linda Austin said. “She’s generous, thoughtful and kind – she always goes above and beyond.”
Maria’s special touch is evident throughout the house, from the beautiful flower arrangements – often from her own garden – to the happy trio of chattering parakeets, for which she lovingly cares.
Every hallway, and many residents’ apartments, are alive with plants and floral arrangements, each tenderly nurtured or created by Maria.
And when the kitchen crew need fresh basil, or a plump juicy tomato, they simply visit Maria’s “veggie patch” on the nearby porch to stock up.
Maria’s vast knowledge of gardening and animals was nurtured in her native Brazil, where she grew up on a farm as one of 12 children.
The farm is where she learned her most valuable lessons from her mother and grandmother. “They couldn’t just go to a store and buy things they needed,” Maria said. “Back then, you had to grow or make things,’ including basic needs like hand soap.
The family farm also had animals – lots of animals. “We had big ones, small ones, birds, rabbits, horses, cows — I milked the cows,” Maria said. “Because Brazil is tropical, we had big cages outdoors.”
In Brazil, Maria taught physics and geography to high school students. Her interest in geography led her to a desire to travel – notably to one special destination.
“From a very young age, I wanted to come here [to the United States],” she said. When her dream finally became a reality in 2003, Maria met and married her husband Jonas, and eventually found her way to Decatur House.
When she is not at work, Maria enjoys swimming, kayaking and fishing with Jonas, and bicycling the canal, which she says is “beautiful!”
October 26th will mark an important milestone for Maria: her third anniversary as a U.S. citizen. She recalls how difficult and grueling the naturalization process had been.
“I had a CD and book with 115 long questions, and for three months it became my bible,” she said. “I listened all the time, in the car and at home.”
“I will never forget that moment when we pledged allegiance to the flag, and the beautiful speech the judge made,” Maria said. “At the end, he said, ‘Now everybody get ready to pay taxes!’ – and we all laughed.”
Maria acknowledges the important role Linda played at the time, providing her support, encouragement and assistance every step of the way.
On Aug. 14th, Maria will celebrate her 16th anniversary at Decatur House.