Martin Luther Mathews
Co-Founder & Emeritus President | Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club
“It is my philosophy that talent, education and determination encourage youth to transcend less-than-stellar living situations and other obstacles,”
“You grew up, I didn’t” is one of Martin Luther Mathews favorite statements to the many alumni who come back to visit him at Mathews-Dickey and others he meets in the community. That’s because, although he turned 92 on Feb. 17, 2017, his work with young people keeps him young at heart.
After more than a half century of service to the St. Louis community, Mathews retired as president and chief executive officer of the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club on Nov. 1, 2014. Of course, this only means he’s cut back from eight days a week in the office to seven. A vital presence forever to the Club he co-founded, Mathews continues to consult the organization as its emeritus president.
Mathews was born in Neelyville, Mo., Feb. 17, 1925, to Mr. and Mrs. Ned Mathews. At an early age, Mathews and his family moved to Poplar Bluff, Mo., where he met his wife, the late Barbara Albright. To the union five daughters were born, including the Betty Joe Mathews, Juanita Mathews, Marilyn Mathews, Angelic Cole and the late Phyllis Mathews. Mathews later moved to St. Louis to take on a position with the Burkart Randall Division of Textron, Inc., where he was promoted to manager of the Upholstery Department.
One of Mathews favorite sayings is:
“what you do for yourself dies with you and what you do for others lives on forever.”
These are certainly words that he’s lived his life by. His first involvement with youth programming came at the death-bed invitation of a fellow neighborhood baseball coach who summoned him to his house. The coach asked Mr. Mathews to take a team of young men under his wing. Mathews accepted, thinking that he would take the team for a year and then drop them. The next day, two young men were on his doorstep seeking $25 to enter a league. Mathews didn’t hesitate to give it out of his own pocket, even though this was no small amount in circa 1958 for a man of modest means. At the first game, Mathews was struck by the disparity he saw between his impoverished group of young black men, who had tattered uniforms and equipment, compared to their white counterparts across the diamond.
The moment seemed to put the civil rights struggle of the era in a picture frame.
After losing badly, Mathews sat the team down and vowed that if they worked hard, he would get them better equipment and if they worked even harder they could be champions. He molded this team into semi-pro three-state champions who won five games in one day. More importantly, the members of the Knights became successful FBI agents, educators, business people, lawyers, etc.
It was this experience and a chance encounter with Mathews-Dickey Co-Founder “Dickey” Ballentine under a shade tree that demonstrated to Mathews the importance of giving ALL CHILDREN a chance. In conversing, they found out that the children on their teams weren’t getting into as much trouble as youth with nothing to do.
And, so Mathews-Dickey was founded upon this simple-yet-vital premise in 1960. Since then the Club has played an important role in the forefront of efforts to combat teen idleness. The co-founders knew then and the Club continues to be a pillar of the community in keeping young people busy in a variety of activities to combat the effects of crime, illiteracy and high school dropouts that threaten the progress of St. Louis and our nation.
Since then, Mathews’ goal every day has been to leave the earth a better place than it was the day before.
A champion for youth, Mathews has forged strong relationships with business and community leaders and developed numerous innovative programs like the Volunteer Tutorial which supplies youth with math, reading and language arts “study buddies” and Computer Literacy Instruction to tackle the digital divide through technology training.
“It is my philosophy that talent, education and determination encourage youth to transcend less-than-stellar living situations and other obstacles,” said Mathews. “Through education we can overcome hardships and difficulties and provide support systems to conquer poverty, ignorance and hatred to become productive citizens. My lifelong mission is to educate youth on the front end to prevent them from falling through the cracks on the back end.”
As coach of the Mathews-Dickey Knights, Mathews did just that leading his team of 30 young men (known by some as “The First 30”) to victories on the baseball fields (including five in one day) and in their schools and communities. Subsequently he’s inspired many alumni to become gainfully employed citizens giving back to the communities in which they live. Today the Club annually provides direct services to nearly 3,000 members and episodic services to thousands more.
An avid sportsman, Mathews built strong relationships with the Junior Football and Khoury baseball leagues. He also collaborated with Major League Baseball and St. Louis Cardinals officials on the creation of the Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) Program in 1992 and subsequent hosting of the first World Series.
A firm believer in youth employment opportunities Mathews founded Earn and Learn to help them earn money as managers, coaches, scorekeepers and umpires. In an effort to reduce gang violence, he collaborated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1992 to establish Motivation, Vocation and Preparation (MVP).
In 1982, the Club was declared a model for the country by President Ronald Reagan. And in 1998 President Bill Clinton’s White House lauded it as a 21st Century Learning Center. U.S. Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Dan Quayle recognized the Club’s “The Sky is the Limit,” “Maleness to Manhood Workshop Series,” career, leadership and mentoring programs.
Mathews’ advice is frequently sought by local, national and worldwide leaders on successfully instituting youth programming and forging corporate/community partnerships. Under his leadership and tutelage, the Club helped give birth to City Academy and the St. Louis Law Internship Program.
Upon the Rams’ relocation to St. Louis in 1995, the cofounder oversaw the team’s successful transition of their administrative offices and training facility within the confines of the Mathews-Dickey facility until the new Earth City complex was erected. Programming continued nonstop at several area high schools and universities.
Mathews has worked diligently with major corporate leaders and Civic Progress to solicit financial and in-kind donations to renovate the Club and broaden its services. Support has come from Ameren, Anheuser-Busch, Edward Jones, Emerson, The Catherine Manley Gaylord Foundation, the Orthwein Foundation, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Insituform Technologies, the INTERCO Charitable Trust and United Way of Greater St. Louis. Mathews also was the first African-American to serve on the board and executive committee of the United Way.
His distinguished awards include The A&E Biography Community Hero, Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame; President’s Council on Youth Opportunity; St. Louis Board of Education’s Outstanding Community Service; the Washington Times’ National Service and American Century; the Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. National President’s; the Missouri Athletic Club’s Jack Buck; St. Louis Olympic Festival; St. Louis Globe Democrat Humanitarian, St. Louis American Salute to Excellence Lifetime Achievement and United States Presidential Citizens.
In honor of Mathews retirement and 90th birthday in February 2015, the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club hosted a benefit concert featuring the Isley Brothers that drew nearly 3,000 attendees to the Fox Theatre in St. Louis and raised $500,000 for the organization he co-founded.
Mathews is also a recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis, Webster University and the University of Missouri — St. Louis.