RSU to Honor Martins with ‘Distinguished Legacy Award’ at Alumni Awards Dinner April 27

Dr. Keith and Lisa Martin standing with arms around each other

For nearly 50 years, Dr. Keith and Lisa Martin have been inseparable.

Since first meeting in junior high school, the couple has walked – sometimes, danced – through life together, from marriage through school, from raising their children to the blessing of their grandchildren, the pair’s story has been about them together as one.

So, it’s only appropriate that this year’s “Hill Legacy Award” winner was neither Keith nor Lisa Martin, but both Keith and Lisa Martin – the first husband and wife recipients of the honor.

“Lisa and I started dating in high school. It’s pretty much always been ‘Keith and Lisa’ – like our identity has always been us together, not separate from one another, so it kind of makes sense that we would have been selected together for this award,” Keith said. “It would have been very weird if only one of us had won it.”

“We’re co-dependent, but in a healthy way,” joked Lisa.

The couple’s story began when Keith sat behind Lisa in ninth grade history class on the third floor of Claremore’s old junior high.

“We weren’t dating of course, but we did eventually get to dance together at the ninth grade dance, which was nice,” Keith said.

Shortly after graduating high school in 1979, the couple wed and began their respective educations, Keith in the sciences, Lisa in nursing, with Lisa graduating with RSU’s first nursing class in 1983, back when the university was still Rogers State College.

“Lisa graduated from the nursing program less than a week after she had our first child,” Keith noted. “She had a final test on Monday, gave birth to our son on Wednesday and made it to commencement on Saturday, only three days post-partum. I had to help her onto the stage, but she did it – that’s really saying something. I recall Stratton Taylor shaking both of our hands at that.”

“Initially, I was an ER nurse in the cardiac ICU, in home health and was a nurse at Claremore Public Schools, but in 2004, I came back to RSU as director of the student health center,” she said. “It was a unique opportunity because, before then, the university had never had a health center, so when (then university President) Dr. (Joe) Wiley hired me, I was involved in getting the health center going from the ground up. I got to look at the floor plans, help guide things while it was being built, ordered all kinds of supplies – everything from beds to band-aids – and spoke with students and nurses about their thoughts and experiences. It was really a dream job for me.”

Keith graduated from RSU in 1983 – again, while it was still Rogers State College – with an associate degree in science (biology), after which, he earned his B.S. in biology-education and his M.S. in biology-higher education from Northeastern State University. He also holds a Ph. D in wildlife and fisheries ecology from Oklahoma State University.

Like Lisa, he also returned to the Hill – for him, in 1990 – serving in several roles over the ensuing years: instructor of biology, assistant professor of biology, associate professor of biology and full professor of biology.

Keith served as interim department head for the Department of Mathematics and Science from 2004 to 2005, department head of the same from 2005 to 2007, interim dean from 2007 to 2008, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (formerly, the School of Arts and Sciences) from 2008 to 2023.

The pair eventually retired from their respective careers in education, Lisa working in private nursing and Keith returning – again – to RSU to teach in a reduced capacity.

“I retired then I un-retired,” Keith laughed. “I’m kind of a half-faculty member – there are a few other faculty members like this. It’s kind of a unique cohort, but I’m glad to be back.”

As the pair reflects on their time on the Hill, aside from the health center, both regard their greatest accomplishments to be their relationships.

“Both of us made so many connections, so many relationships during our time at RSU – the students, the faculty, all the people we met here who were part of the community,” Keith said. “I think I’ve added up the letters of reference I’ve written over the years – for friends, students, faculty, staff, etc. – and it came up to right at 400.

“All the people that impacted us in some way, all those connections,” Lisa said. “That would be our biggest accomplishment.”

Dr. Keith and Lisa Martin are lifelong residents of Claremore. The couple has two children and six grandchildren.

The Martins and their fellow award recipients will be recognized at the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner Saturday, April 27, in the Dr. Carolyn Taylor Center on the RSU campus in Claremore. Other honorees include Caitlyn Ngare and Jody Moore, who have been named winners of the RSU Rising Star Award and the RSU Distinguished Hillcat Award, respectively.

The award winners were selected based on the recipients’ personal achievements and service; statewide, regional, and/or national distinction; and bringing honor to themselves and to Rogers State University.

Tickets for the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner may be purchased at