November 10, 2017
Spotlight on one of our Female Vets: Martha Rossier
From the time she was nine years old, Martha Rossier wanted to be a nurse. And a missionary. She has done both during a life driven by a passion to help others.
Born in Florida, one of nine children, Rossier, 93, was among the first women in the nation to serve in the Marines, which allowed women in its ranks for the first time in World War II. Her brother had enlisted and she did too, Rossier recalled this week from the Ontario Center in Hopewell, where she now lives. While Rossier was serving stateside caring for wounded soldiers in the new Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, her mother became ill and Rossier was honorably discharged to care for her mother and help with the birth of a new baby.
On Wednesday, just days before Veterans Day, Rossier talked about her experience, shared details of her life and offered hope for the future.
“Be involved,” she advised the younger generations. “And understand — know why you do what you do.”
For Rossier, involvement after the war took the form of missionary work in East Africa, where she lived for many years. She was instrumental in creating an orphanage, where her sister, Joyce, worked as well, and where Rossier’s adopted daughter also worked as an adult.
Rose was the name of Rossier’s adopted daughter, orphaned at birth, and so sickly she wasn’t expected to live. But Rossier, with her skills, faith and compassion, nursed baby Rose to health and raised her as her own.
It was not easy. “I tried to be a mother to her,” said Rossier, who never married and has no children of her own. “It was difficult…but we brought her through.”
For many years and long after Rossier returned to the United States, settling in Canandaigua to be near family, Rose and Rossier stayed in contact through letters. As far as she knows Rose is still alive and well, Rossier said, with her sister, Joyce Shoptaugh by her side. Shoptaugh recalled, too, her sister’s role in raising Rose and their work at the orphanage.
It was 1958 when Rossier made her first trip to Rwanda, where she lived for two years working as a missionary. After returning to the States, she lived in Florida and worked as a registered nurse at the Orlando Sanitarium. One day she received a call from her church asking if she would return to Africa on a mission. She traveled by cargo ship with 12 other people. After the ship docked in Rwanda she was flown by small plane to Mombasa, a city on the coast of Kenya. In Kenya, she supervised development and construction of the orphanage. Once the orphanage was up and running, Rossier was nurse for the children and cared for hundreds of children there until she was forced to return to the U.S. due to war that had erupted between tribal factions in the country.
Back in the U.S., Rossier worked for a year in a small hospital in Tennessee. But she felt a calling once again to return to East Africa.
“Those children needed my attention,” she said. Due to warring in the area of the orphanage, Martha and a friend purchased a house in a safer region and relocated the children there. That was the early 1980s. Eventually, Rossier returned to the states, moving to Canandaigua to be close to family.
While Rossier did not lead an easy life, she said it was easy to make the choices she did — because she was always driven to do exactly what she did.
“I could not let go of it,” she said. “It built up in my mind and my heart.
“I could see the need — and I was forced to do something about it.”