The Washington Times-Herald

November 29, 2013

Putting children first

The Washington Times-Herald

---- — If you ask Larry Mattes about Junior Beta Club, he’ll tell you it’s all about the kids. “They do it all. I just kind of help guide them along,” he said as several members of the club ask him about the books being collected for Jubilee Christmas. “Count the books again. There should be 124,” he tells them.

“We want 250. I think we can do that,” one student says, peeking his head around the corner.

“That’s our goal. It’s important that you set goals that you can attain. Then you can set other goals,” he tells the student, who has been joined by a handful of others.

Mattes has been the Junior Beta sponsor for over 30 years at Washington Junior High where he also works as the guidance counselor.

Junior Beta Club has been a huge part of Mattes’ life over the last three decades. “I always tell them, we are leading by serving others. When the kids can do projects like this one (collecting books for Jubilee Christmas) they get really excited.”

Over the years Mattes has “watched” over students as they hold dances to benefit organizations and projects within the school and community. He has rang bells for countless hours with students for the Salvation Army. He spent 18 hours one very cold April outside with students participating in 15 Hours of Hope (an event he has since moved to later in May when it’s a bit warmer!) and he started Heritage Day, one of his personal favorites, an event designed to showcase and experience the various cultures found in Washington. “If for some reason the school decides not to do Heritage Day, I’m hoping our church (Central Christian) will take it over.”

Heritage Day was started 13 years ago and has grown into an event for the whole community. “We have people that have participated in this since the beginning. We’ve had people who come back every year, and most of the time we have over two dozen cultures represented. The kids have committees for this just like they do for other projects. We have refreshments, a program that gives information on the cultures represented and the kids do publicity as well.”

Mattes said in the past, students have made cultural coloring books, music CDs and historical books. “There’s so much beauty in the diversity we have and as people see this, it broadens their respect for the different cultures,” said Mattes.

Every other month there are also Friday night dances with the proceeds benefiting different causes and there’s a Bowl-A-Thon for St. Jude’s, March for Babies and other smaller projects too.

But Junior Beta isn’t the only activity on Mattes’ to do list. He tutors and does Back Packs for Kids, a national program that helps provide meals to 50 students on the weekends. Mattes was one of the co-founders of Feed My Sheep, served on the board of Habitat for Humanity for several years, is a past president of the United Way Board and served as President of the Daviess County United Way for one year. Yesterday, Mattes and other members of his family delivered Thanksgiving meals to elderly shut-ins and others who requested a meal.

“I’ve been privileged to work in this capacity for several years and I feel so blessed to be able to serve others,” Mattes said. He’s also serves as house manager during the annual Madrigal dinner. “I co-coordinate the junior high and high school servers,” he said. “I’ve done this for several years and started after my youngest daughter Rebecca was in the Madrigals.”

In May, Mattes will hang up one of his many hats, this one as the junior high guidance counselor, but that won’t mean taking it easy for Mattes. “I’m still going to do Beta here but my wife Marilyn would probably like to have me at home a little more,” he says, a big grin sweeping across his face. “I’m hoping we can get a Community Foundation grant project going for Junior Beta and that’s what I am hoping will be my legacy.”

What Mattes may not realize is that the lives of students he has touched over the years will never be forgotten.

Retirement will also mean Mattes will have more time to visit with his eight grandchildren and daughters Rebecca, Sarah and Rachel.