By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Gaila Hiebert Martin calculates designing or working on at least 75 bridges and more than 100 miles of road during her 15 years with the engineering firm of Holloway, Updike & Bellen.
“I’ve always enjoyed building things and seeing the finished product,” Martin said. “You get to do a lot of that in civil engineering.”
Martin has the same job title as her father, whose job took him to 17 states before he settled in Oklahoma.
However, although her father was mostly a field engineer, Martin did most of her work on computers.
“He pretty much worked with the building phase of a project,” Martin said. “But I preferred working inside with the computer. I had strong skills for math and science.”
She traces this knack for computers, engineering, math and science to when she typed her first “Hello World.”
She said it was the summer before her third-grade year in school. Her father’s engineering office had just bought a computer.
“Personal computers were coming into use when I was a small child,” she said. “But the office computer was off limits to me and my brother during its first year in use.”
However, when office workers could not program the newfangled device, it was put into the back room, Martin recalled. That’s when young Gaila and her brother got to play on it.
“It came with a manual and, being a young nerd, I played with the computer and read the manual,” she said. “That’s when I wrote my first ‘Hello World.’”
“Hello World” was the greeting used to start the PC program, she said.
“I look back at people and laugh. We all have written ‘Hello World’ at some point.”
From that first “Hello World,” Gaila moved on to manipulating bouncing balls on the computer screen.
“It would bounce to the edge of the screen, then it would bounce back,” she said. “It was very high-tech back then, and we were very proud.”
By the time she was in college, she was programming in Windows software.
“It was the beginning of the end,” she said. “I very much enjoyed computers.”
Meet Gaila Hiebert Martin
HOMETOWN: Webbers Falls.
CAREER: Retired engineer.
EDUCATION: Webbers Falls High School, 1989; Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, Oklahoma State University, 1994.
FAMILY: Husband, Rick; three sons, Brenden, Trenten and Landren, and a grown stepdaughter, Andrea Martin.
CHURCH: First Baptist Church.
HOBBIES: “I have such a basket full, you wouldn’t be able to write it all down. Painting, poetry, writing. Sometimes I take a hobby, work on it until I burn out.”
Gaila Hiebert Martin said her father worked in construction, living in 17 states before settling in Webbers Falls.
“He was working on the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System when he saw the falls and loved them,” she recalled. “His second job in this area was the Muskogee Turnpike. He decided to start his own business here. Mom said she was glad because she could stay at a place where she could watch the bulbs she planted in fall come up in the spring.”
Martin said her father’s expertise was in heavy construction. She said he built container ponds for a Kerr-McGee plant near Gore.
“He and my brother are now working on the five-year decommissioning of the plant,” she said.
She said her father has not been too skilled at computers.
“But he has an amazing head for estimation; he’s very good at quickly estimating distance,” she said.
When her father said something was 47 inches, that’s about what it was.
She said she developed the knack for estimating over the years.
“If I go to a site, I pretty much know a distance,” she said. “But when you’re 20 years old, you just don’t know.”
Martin recalled being “pretty much committed to becoming an engineer” by the time she got to high school.
She said she always enjoyed building things, “and you get to do that in civil engineering.”
Engineering was a growing field for women by 1989, when Martin started at Oklahoma State University. However, she said, most women were not attracted to the same type of engineering that interested her. She said there were plenty of women in her general engineering classes during her first two years in college. Most were interested in becoming petroleum engineers.
“During my last two years in school, there were three girls and 40 guys in each class,” she said. “I’ll estimate at 40 guys, but remembering three girls is pretty solid because they were always the same three girls.”
She said she hasn’t been to an engineering class in the past few years,
Martin said she was fortunate to get a job straight out of college that was close to home. She said Holloway, Updike & Bellen had worked with her father.
“They had good, clean plans you could work from,” she said. “It’s a company with a good attention to detail.”
kinds of work
Martin began phasing out her job at the engineering firm in 2010, when payments were finished on the family home. She now works on-call.
“Having the house paid off gives you flexibility,” she said.
She wanted to spend more time with her children, and she now volunteers at Sadler Arts Academy, which her three sons attend. The volunteering keeps her busier than ever, mostly working on the sets for Sadler productions. She drew the cartoon conductor and the “Bill” for the set of “School House Rock Live! Jr.” She painted trees on the moody backdrops for Sadler’s “Nutcracker.”
“Schools can keep you busy if they find out you have time,” Martin said.
Her latest project involved making the area around Sadler and Elliot Park scary for last month’s Monster Dash. The Dash involved two trail runs, complete with obstacles and “zombies” chasing the participants.
“My job turned out to be monster makeup,” Martin said. “I made scabs out of tissue paper, food coloring and Knox gelatin.”
Her service to the school is motivated by her outlook on life.
“One of my personal theories of life is that in a life of service, there is always work to be done,” she said.
How did you come to be an Okie from Muskogee?
“It happened to me. I was born here. My father moved here when he was in construction. When I came back after college, I wanted to be near my family. I wouldn’t have stayed here if it wasn’t a good place to live.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“Small town atmosphere. When I go visit my father, I can go out into the woods and hills easily. You have all you need in Muskogee. Its proximity to Tulsa is a good thing.”
What do you do with your free time?
“What is spare time? I enjoy photography, writing, reading. My library card stays warm because I always use it.”
How do you make a living in Muskogee?
“I work on an on-call basis with the engineering firm of Holloway, Updike & Bellen.”
What would make Muskogee a better place to live?
“I feel more job opportunities would help. The Port of Muskogee is always wanting to attract more industries. We need to have more skilled jobs.”
Is there an Okie from Muskogee you admire?
“At work, I’m fortunate to have had two mentors, Jay Updike and Terry Eddings. Then there is my father, who lives in the country south of Muskogee. He is heavily involved in missions, volunteering and giving. Now, he is in Mexico, building a third story on a hospital.”
What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you since you have lived in Muskogee?
“The ice storm in 2007 was memorable, being without electricity for seven to eight days and cooking out on gas fire logs. The mall had electricity, so we went to the mall and saw a movie. For more normal memorable things, I’ve always enjoyed the plays. And my three boys were born here.”
How would you sum up Muskogee in 25 words or less?
“It’s a hidden gem, a place with a lot of diversity and opportunity.”