Philanthropy Profile

Marty Carson '62

Chatham alumna and trustee helps organic gardens and fundraisers bloom

In the early 1990s, Martha "Marty" Carson '62 was paging through a gardening magazine when she noticed an article about a program that sent volunteers to the former Soviet Union to help bolster its agriculture.

"It was after Perestroika, when everything changed," says Marty, referring to the policy established by Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to the dissolution of the USSR.

For three and a half weeks, Marty, along with a graduate student, a volunteer, and the program founder, Sharon Tennison, lived in St. Petersburg, building organic rooftop gardens.

Following St. Petersburg, the group traveled to Moscow and stayed with farmers, many of whom were ex-soldiers, transitioning from military life to civilian life. In the evenings, everyone gathered around the table, eating from small dishes, as the host families told stories, recited poetry, and sang songs. Thanks to her Chatham education, Marty understood some of these tales and songs.

"My interest in Russia came from studying Russian for a year at Chatham," Marty says. "I don't know if I would have written to Sharon and said 'I want to do this and be involved in it' without my exposure to Russian."

As a language major, Marty took Russian her senior year from Tatiana Kelly, a Russian teacher from the University of Pittsburgh who also taught at Chatham. Marty's experiences at Chatham greatly influenced her life. Learning Russian was just one of the many interests she discovered at Chatham that greatly influenced her life. Her love of music, which endures to this day, flourished after she joined the chorus lead by Lorenzo Malfatti.

"I remember once sitting in chorus rehearsal one afternoon and he said, 'we have a special guest in the back of the room,' and I looked and it was [actor and folk singer] Burl Ives," she says, adding that Malfatti was a wonderful teacher, with a brilliant voice.

Marty graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Art in German. Being a Chatham student gave Marty a lifetime of memories and inspired an enduring dedication to her alma mater. Marty has been involved with Chatham for years and has served on the Board of Trustees since 1999. During Reunion Weekend held October 12-14, Marty received the 2012 William Trimble Beatty Award, an award that honors those who embody the spirit of Beatty, who was instrumental in securing Chatham's charter.

While her language skills helped her in Russia, Marty's career took a different path. Since the late 1960s, Marty has been cultivating her own gardens. Friends admired her handiwork and she'd offer advice on their own blooms. When she and her husband moved to Sussex County, N.J., in 1983, Marty began assisting her landscape designer. Even though she did not have formal training, she realized she excelled at garden design and founded ThreeSeasons, an organic gardening firm.

In addition dedicating herself as an entrepreneur, Marty devotes much of her time to volunteering in her community and at Chatham.

"Her name appears on the past campaigns; she's on the list to volunteer, and she donates. She serves and she gives," says Ann Boyd-Stewart, vice president for the Office of University Advancement.

Marty has been involved in the Athletic and Fitness Center Project and served as a member of the National Leadership Gifts Committee, which was part of the Keep the Vision Splendid Campaign, and served as a special advisor for the Alumnae College 2001 Planning Committee.

As chair of the advancement committee for the board, Marty played a role in raising funds for the University, and embodies the best qualities of a fundraiser.

"She is able to listen. She is very passionate but she is able to say 'what do you think?'" explains Boyd-Stewart. "She loves to get input from others and that shows leadership."

"She is quite active at Chatham," says Gretchen Hart, a classmate of Marty's. "She is a tireless volunteer. She claims that I do more than she does but I do not buy that at all."

Hart and Marty became reacquainted when Hart began her tenure as the president of the Alumni Association, making her a board member. She was struck by Marty's dedication.

Marty chose Chatham for college because her mother, Louise Hamilton, who graduated in 1924, advocated for the school.

"A lot of the women in our family went to Chatham and were involved in Chatham," she says. Marty's mother and her roommate, Martha Luthringer, remained friends until they both passed away at the age of 96. Much like her mother, Marty remains friends with her roommate, Nancy Elman '62, and stays with her when she visits.

"She knows a lot about the meaning of friendship," says Elman.

She notes that Marty's dedication extends beyond friendship, encompassing her company and her work for Chatham. She spends long nights reading through all the board materials, making sure she has a firm grasp of what's going on at Chatham.

"She's fearless in raising funds and she understands it really well," says Elman.

Marty says she learned about fundraising from volunteering at Chatham and she's applied it to other aspects of her life. As president and a member of the Masterwork Chorus in Morristown, N.J., Marty's fundraising skills help the chorus thrive.

"I am serving in the fourth year of the choir and my experiences at Chatham gave me the confidence to feel I am able to take on something very significant," says Marty.

"I think Chatham has an amazing ability to give women the tools they need to become special people," she says.