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'No one can fill his shoes': Community celebrates legacy of co-founder of Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club

"Mr. Mathews was a man of compassion, empathy. A man who cared about the community and people in general," said Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

ST. LOUIS — The life of Dr. Martin L. Mathews was celebrated on Thursday morning at Graham Chapel on Washington University's campus.

Mathews, co-founder of the Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club, died last week in hospice care. He was 97 years old. 

Mathews grew up in the bootheel town of Neelyville, Missouri. He was born on February 17, 1925. 

He moved to St. Louis in the late 1930s to find work to help with the family finances. Mathews was the 11th of 13 children. 

As an adult, boys in the neighborhood would stand on his porch begging for baseball lessons. He began coaching for free at Handy Park. There, he met Hubert "Dickey" Ballentine. The two would form the club known today as Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club which is on Kingshighway near I-70.

People from all walks of life piled into the chapel to say a final farewell. 

"Mr. Mathews was a man of compassion, empathy. A man who cared about the community and people in general," said Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an Olympic gold medalist and community activist. "He really poured into people, poured love into them. Giving people hope when you didn't know where hope would come from. No one can fill his shoes. All we can do is continue to study, know his work and do our good deeds."

Kersee runs her own community center in the Metro East and knows the importance of investing in kids. 

Melody Benford-Washington called Mathews a father figure. 

She spent a lot of time at the club after her mother died. 

"Just to have a place to go be a child and experience childhood without pressures form the outside world," Benford-Washington said. "Learning your gifts and talents, Mathews-Dickey is a place you can do all of those things and he encouraged it. I just hope we continue to be the good people he wanted us to be. To continue this legacy, it doesn't just end with him, we are all a part of him and we can continue to make this grow in St. Louis and worldwide."

Many people shared stories about how Mathews impacted their life. Saying that came up several times was Mathews focusing on the 3 Rs: respect, restraint and responsibility.

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