Martha Emrey Exemplifies Liberal Arts

Posted on: Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by Brent Treash
When you ask Martha Winquist Emrey (’79) about her busy, service-filled life, she humbly responds, “I do what I can.” But the real story is that you can’t believe what all she can do.

When you ask Martha Winquist Emrey (’79) about her busy, service-filled life, she humbly responds, “I do what I can.” But the real story is that you can’t believe what all she can do.

For starters, she owns and runs her own business. TOPCO is a fascinating enterprise as it handles the tasks most of us don’t think about. Martha deals in “materials handling,” and, as she puts it, “materials of any size: from donuts to earth excavators!” She’s about the business of helping manufacturing companies handle issues involved with lifting, transporting, and storage. Her company helps solve issues relating to ergonomics and dealing with items of a tricky size, shape, or weight. In short, TOPCO will solve the problems that make folks scratch their heads.

So when a customer has a question, she meets with them to “see” the challenge, sketches out a possible design, and then shares it with a local business who can fabricate the item in question. To illustrate her work, here’s how she explains a recent opportunity: “…a customer emailed with a need for a custom cart designed to move furniture through a finishing process. The cart would be pulled through the factory by an in-floor conveyor. Since the furniture is tall, the cart would need to have a low profile. I walked through the factory from the start of the process through each step and finally to packing of the item and then the return of the cart back to the starting point. I talked with the Operations Manager, Plant Manager, Engineering Director, Vice President of Operations and the Research & Development Manager, asking questions, getting answers, and getting ideas and input from each one. Back at my office, I compiled all of the information, emailed a sketch to my fabricator and conferred with him by phone. (In the old days we would have met in person.)” She says the design process has to be a group effort as she works with the customer and the fabricator who build the item needed. And because each job is different, each job means in-depth research, fresh ideas, and creative solutions. “It’s always something new!”

Another client needed a pallet rack to store items received on wooden pallets. Another company, with visually impaired workers, needed the mechanism for measuring, cutting, and shipping steel wire rope. These are the sort of challenges TOPCO takes on and solves.

And it’s just the sort of work you’d expect an elementary education major to be doing.

Or not.

After finishing at E&H the teaching market was crowded, so she returned to a summer job in Wisconsin at a chemical company. She ended up staying there for 10 years enjoying a wide range of experiences working with industrial coatings, doing product evaluations, and trouble-shooting.

Eventually Wisconsin weather got the best of her and she found a home in warmer North Carolina. She saw that getting a new start meant getting some new skills, so she went to business school to put some new arrows in her quiver. What she really wanted to do next was communications work, and her new business knowledge allowed her to get her foot in the door as a temp worker. Eventually she ended up doing corporate advertising for Ingersoll-Rand. And now she’s running her own business working with industry.

So, now this teacher-turned-industrial-problem-solver doesn’t settle for a busy career that helps people work more efficiently. She also spends a great amount of her time in service to the community.

She says the best thing she does all week is leading a program at the local assisted living home. Every Monday for the past 12 years or so she has gone to visit these older residents and offered an intellectually stimulating discourse on music, poetry, literature, biography, song, and more. Recently she did a program on the music of Richard Rogers that allowed for song, stories, and biography. And she offers programs on a variety of musical styles from show tunes to bluegrass. A former member of the E&H Concert Choir, she is likely to sing for them while also sharing wonderful insight into a poet or songwriter. Ironically, she is currently taking voice lessons from Marianne Grzywacz in Greensboro (a former E&H music professor).

Martha also translates her love of hiking into service as she serves as a trail volunteer for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). She met her husband of 15 years while on a hike with her hiking club, and now the two share time together doing trail maintenance in a variety of locations.

She is also a writer of note, and uses her writing as a means of service. She frequently is published in the newsletter for her writers group and the ATC magazine, often using articles to bring attention to organizations, museums, or locations that need a bit of publicity. She recently wrote for the ATC publication about the Settler’s Museum in Atkins, Virginia.
Her interests don’t end there. She also enjoys biking, works on the gardens and grounds at her church, helps her mom volunteer for a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Wisconsin, is learning to knit, and is an available friend and aid to folks in her community.

She describes herself as having “…a helping personality. I do what I can.” Good luck figuring out what she can’t do.