ST. LOUIS – He was not a tall man, but his shadow looms large over the St. Louis region and the countless children who knew the late Martin Mathews. He died in his home at the age of 97.

In 1960, Mathews cofounded the Mathews Dickey Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis Handy Park along with the late Hubert “Dickey” Ballentine.

“He was like my second father, especially after my own father passed,” said Reverend Earl E. Nance Jr., pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church and friend of Mathews. “He provided a lot of good advice and mentoring for me as I was growing up, became grown, and took on other responsibilities. He was that kind of person. He loved children and never turned a child away through the boys and girls club.”

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For those who knew Mathews or spent any time with the larger-than-life figure, they would inevitably hear him talk of the “Three R’s.”

“Understanding respect, restraint, and responsibility, and knowing that if you have those things in your life, in your heart, and in your mind, you can do most anything,” said Bonita Cornute, a former Mathews Dickey Board Member and friend of Mathews. “You can overcome almost any obstacle.”

Mathews created innovative sports and learning opportunities like the volunteer tutorial, which paired math, reading, and language arts “study buddies” with club members.

“Another one he would say to me often when we were thinking of planning for City Academy, he would talk about the importance of preparation, opportunity, and possibility,” said Don Danforth III, founder, and president of City Academy. “He would say those words again and again. I think he summed it up by saying, if children are prepared and receive equal opportunities, then their possibilities are endless. Their futures are bright, and ultimately, we all benefit as a community.”

Mathews, a man who gave his life of service to his community, will be missed by many.