BETHANY, W.Va. – When the COVID-19 pandemic confined many people to their homes in the spring, retired pastor and Bethany College alumnus Terry Martinson came up with a novel way to fill his time and give back to his alma mater.

In May, Martinson ’69 set out to walk the 649 miles between his home in Plymouth, Mass., and Bethany College before Homecoming – without traveling more than 10 miles around his neighborhood on any given day.

Martinson “arrived at Old Main” on Tuesday – more than a month before Homecoming – and has donated 69 cents for every mile he traveled. He challenges fellow alumni to follow in his footsteps.

“I think if we can help schools and do that in a creative way, we can make a difference,” Martinson said. “I just thought it would be a creative way to have people make donations to Bethany.”

He acknowledges that, by using his method, the donations would vary widely based on graduation year and the distance between the alumnus’ home and Bethany. But the goal, he said, is to help Bethany in a time of unprecedented global challenge.

“We are blessed to have such wonderful alumni who are passionate and generous to Bethany College,” said Lori Weaver, interim vice president of advancement. “Rev. Martinson is an inspiration to all of us.  I hope that all Bethanians accept his challenge and ‘walk back’ to Bethany this October.”

Martinson is a longtime contributor to the college. He said he has tried to make a donation every year since his graduation.

He retired from ministry in 2013, but “still keeps busy professionally,” filling in when churches are in need.

Walking mostly alone, Martinson uses the time for reflection.

“I enjoy walking, and it gives me a chance to think and unwind,” he said. “I use a good part of the time as prayer time.”

His hometown of Plymouth had planned a 400th-anniversary celebration to honor the arrival of the Mayflower for 2020, and Martinson volunteers at Plimoth Plantation.

With the plantation closed because of COVID-19 and festivities pushed to 2021, Martinson spent his mornings one step at a time.

As the miles piled up in March and April, his wife, Marcia, suggested that he choose a destination. They remembered their son’s friend who once threw a dart at a map to determine a place to run.

Instead of leaving his destination to chance, Martinson fondly remembered his time at Bethany.

Between May 1 and Sept. 15, he walked 131 out of 138 days, averaging about 5 miles per day.

Change of plans

The New York native enrolled at Bethany as a chemistry major with plans to become a physician. He also was on the track and cross country teams.

His dreams changed, however, when a last-minute lecture interfered with track practice, and the professor presented a choice: Do you want to run or become a doctor?

“Somehow I think there was a plan in there,” Martinson said, noting that he had always enjoyed his religious studies courses. “That’s what I choose to believe, that God had a hand in that.”

By the time he graduated with his religion degree, he already had experience serving as a guest pastor in a consortium of churches in the tri-state area. He said his minor in physical education also served him well as a youth pastor.

“I had opportunities at Bethany that I would never have had at a larger school,” Martinson said. “I think Bethany prepared me well for ministry.”

He spent 41 years as the pastor of the Old South Union Church in South Weymouth, Mass., followed by five years of interim ministry.

Now that Martinson has reached Bethany, he will set out for another significant destination from his past: Miller Chapel on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J.

He said he hopes to cover the 369 miles by the time the snow flies.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.