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    A faithful servant clocks out

    The Marty's over for the oldest Presbyterian church in the county, but the 62-year-old pastor is ready to kick back and all that jazz.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 3, 2002


    DUNEDIN -- First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin is losing the magnanimous pastor with an easy laugh to a jazz band, among other things.

    The Rev. Martin Hager is retiring to groove in his free time with his band, informally known as Two Preachers, an Architect and Someone Who Reads Music, among other secular pursuits.

    In October, Hager will relinquish his duties to his co-pastor, Vicki ByRoade. And, like the other faithful, he will sit in a pew on Sundays rather than stand at the pulpit. He hasn't done that since 1965.

    "I'll be the retired old guy," Hager said with a laugh.

    But he will never be just any church member. Longtime congregants know the impact he has had on First Presbyterian.

    Marty Hager, 62, has led the church for 14 years, arriving in Dunedin from St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Houston. He made his mark as a servant to his 450-member congregation, and helped attract young families to the church.

    Members contacted by the St. Petersburg Times last week were sad about losing him to a well-earned life of leisure.

    "He's won everybody's confidence," said Mary Beth Dauble, a member of what is affectionately known as the Bye, Bye Marty Retirement Party Committee, which will send Hager off in style.

    "It's a very (welcoming) church. We all laugh a lot. He has been a big part of that."

    "I'm going to miss him terribly," said ByRoade, his co-pastor. "It's been a blessing serving with him."

    Hager arrived at the church in 1988, when downtown Dunedin was at a low point, not the eclectic village of antique and art shops it is today.

    "It was sort of in a mess," he said. "It had declined."

    Just as Dunedin began its rebirth, so did First Presbyterian, the oldest Presbyterian church in the county, and one of the oldest in Florida.

    He came on the scene at the beginning of one restoration project and is leaving just as another is completed. That one is a $600,000, seven-month effort to restore the church to its 1926 glory.

    He counts the renovation of what he calls "a great old building" as one of his most satisfying moments at the church.

    Two others are notable.

    During his years at First Presbyterian, a church he described as "very mission oriented," his congregation was instrumental in constructing 18 Habitat for Humanity homes in Dunedin, Safety Harbor and Clearwater.

    But meeting his wife, Lois, a church member and former director of communications at Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in Louisville, was the most fulfilling.

    "I made a pastoral visit to her home on Scotland Street," Hager said. "She was in jeans and a sloppy shirt. We've been married for six years."

    Hager has four grown children from a previous marriage, one of whom, Matthew, is a music director for pop star Mandy Moore.

    After retiring, Hager plans to spend more time with his children, but not before serving a year as interim pastor at Siesta Chapel in Siesta Key.

    "It's never retirement with a capital R when you're a pastor," he said with a laugh.

    -- Eileen Schulte can be reached at 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

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