Founder of YS Senior Center to be Commemorated – Plaque in Honor of Reverend Dr Matthews

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“To provide comprehensive services to seniors in Yellow Springs and the Township of Miami and to help the elderly residents of our community maintain their dignity and provide the means to improve feelings of self-worth.”

This goal, one in a list of five, was adopted when the Yellow Springs Senior Center opened in 1960 in the building currently housing the Emporium by the centre’s founder and first director, Rev. Wesley A. Matthews. According to the Blacks in Yellow Springs encyclopedia, the center has become a national model for establishing senior centers in small communities. Now located next door at 227 Xenia Ave., the center has since offered a wide range of programs and support for seniors.

The contributions and legacy of Reverend Matthews were honored in a virtual program on Thursday, June 24 by the Senior Center. Matthews’ family, members of the center, villagers and representatives of community organizations came together to honor his contributions to both the center and the village. To commemorate his life, a plaque with his effigy from a photo selected by his family, has been commissioned, and will be installed on the front wall of the center.

During his lifetime, Reverend Matthews established institutions that improved people‘s lives and strengthened communities through education, recreation and social services, according to information presented at the meeting. He was director of the center for 17 years until his retirement in 1977 for health reasons. Matthews died in 1979.

During the program, Matthews was described by his daughter Westina Matthews Shatteen as an “energetic visionary who has spent her life in service”. Program highlights included comments from Shatteen on behalf of the Matthews family, Reverend Morné E. Meyer of AME Central Chapel Church and John Gudgel representing Project 365. The program was completed by Kevin McGruder, representative at the both Central Chapel and The 365 Project, and this reporter from the Village Arts and Culture Commission.

To draw attention to her life and contributions, villagers Katie Egart, Cathy Hill and Karen McKee formed a small committee and met through Zoom for 15 months, researching the archives and rallying support from the community. Having served on the board of directors of the senior center at one point, Egart was surprised not to know Reverend Matthews.

“After speaking with Karen, she said her name was definitely forgotten,” Egart said.

“Reverend Matthews has done all of this for the Seniors Center, which is such an important institution in our city. It’s right in the city center, and it means so much to many residents, ”said Egart in a recent interview with the News.

The committee received enthusiastic support from the board of directors of the Senior Center and Central Chapel AME Church, where Matthews was formerly pastor. The village has received strong encouragement from local organizations including Project 365, the Village Arts and Culture Commission and the James A. McKee Association. The financial support was accompanied by a $ 5,000 grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation as part of their Giving Tuesday campaign in 2020 and fundraising by the Senior Center, ensuring the creation of the commemorative plaque. .

According to Egart, the committee “considered that there should be something outside of the Senior Center.” They wanted it to complement the historic Virginia Hamilton marker in front of the library and the Wheeling Gaunt sculpture which is also nearing completion and will be installed later this year near the station.

They also wanted to add markers reflecting the important black cultural heritage of Yellow Springs.

“Yellow Springs has a rich black history,” Egart said. “[Matthews’] the ideas and original visualization for the senior center were so central to this current form of organization that the story should be more widely known.

The committee felt that the Matthews plaque should be “a beautiful piece of public art as well as informative,” Egart added. Villager Brian Maughan was to have been the sculptor when he passed away suddenly last year. Fortunately, the committee was able to find an artist to finish the relief at the foundry Maughan had recommended. The plaque was completed just a day before the Matthews tribute, but there are plans to install it on the center’s front wall later this summer.

Committee member Cathy Hill is also happy that Matthews is remembered in other ways. In a recent conversation with the News, Hill said she was thrilled with the Blacks in Yellow Springs tours through which The 365 Project trains young people as tour guides. In-person visits have been halted during the COVID-19 pandemic but are expected to resume soon.

“People are moving here, and they don’t know the story at all,” Hill said.

For Egart, her connection to the Matthews family is almost “karmic,” she said. The house she bought in 1990 was the Matthews family home, and Pat Matthews used to visit Egart from time to time in his old home. The Matthews family bought the Pleasant Street home from former YS News employee Eleanor Switzer in the 1960s, becoming one of the first black families to integrate the north end of Yellow Springs, according to John Gudgel during the event. The Matthews had five children, four daughters and a son. Unbeknownst to Chicago-born Egart, one of their daughters, Westina Matthews Shatteen, was Egart’s home assistant in her dorm during her freshman year at Dayton University in 1969. Egart saw Shateen for the first time in 50 years in the last week program.

The Reverend Wesley Matthews founded the Yellow Springs Senior Center in 1959. He was the director of the center for 17 years until his retirement in 1977 for health reasons. Matthews died in 1979. (News archive photo)

Who was the Reverend Wesley Matthews?

Born in 1914 in Cartersville, Georgia, Reverend Matthews first came to the area as a student. He attended Wilberforce University where he met his future wife, Pat Fields, who worked for the Yellow Springs News as a reporter and columnist from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Shortly after graduating from Wilberforce, Matthews worked for the YMCA of the Dayton area in the 1930s. According to Shatteen, her father was “one of the first black recreation directors in Dayton”. Archival documents held at Wright State University highlight Matthews’ efforts to help integrate the Dayton-area YMCAs in the 1930s. And according to former YS News editor Kieth A. Howard, it was It was also around this time that Matthews realized the need to support older residents. Howard wrote, in a tribute to Reverend Matthews shortly after his death, that Matthews realized the importance of “recreation programs for senior citizens.”

This realization that occurred early in Matthews’ life later became a physical reality thanks to the founding of the Yellow Springs Senior Center. Shatteen said his father “has ground wheat and flour for sale” and started a thrift store mainly through donations of clothing from students at Antioch College to raise funds for the Center.

Matthews, who was born into a pastoral family, also attended Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce. He came to Yellow Springs in 1949 as a student pastor assigned to AME Church in Central Chapel, where he quickly got to work, turning an abandoned lot near the church into a neighborhood playground, establishing a mentoring program for young boys and founding an integrated community recreation. center called High Street Community Center.

Matthews has also pastored AME churches in Chillicothe, Urbana and Springfield during his career, establishing recreation centers in the communities where he worked. In addition to founding the Yellow Springs Senior Center, he also helped establish the Greene County Commission on Aging in the 1970s.

According to Shatteen, one of his proudest moments was receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Monrovia in Liberia, a country founded by former slaves from the United States.

While it’s clear Matthews’ contributions to Yellow Springs are weighted in the practice of community engagement, education, and activism, The 365 Project’s Kevin McGruder added another important element to the mix, claiming that Matthews’ ideals mirror that of a concept called “the ‘social gospel’, when religious institutions see they have a responsibility to improve the community,” he said.

“Boys Enrichment Program, High Street Community Center – [Matthews had a] understand clearly that the church had a responsibility to improve the community, but the community was larger than that, ”McGruder explained.

He also contextualized Matthews’ influence on Central Chapel in the present day in the context of the social gospel, saying, “Dr. Matthews is an inspiration to us in 2021. And a question for the AME Church according to McGruder is, “How do we continue to contribute to this community?”

“A few years ago, we had a free clinic [at Central Chapel]. It was in the spirit of the work Reverend Matthews was doing. We will reopen soon after a year of closure. We are now discussing how we continue to respond to this load and inspiration? McGruder said during the show.

McGruder also reminded the public that Yellow Springs was once a separate community and that it is “important to recognize this history so that we can see where we are going.” In 1949, Matthews and his wife, Pat, conducted a sit-in to desegregate the Little Theater, now known as the Little Art Theater.

“The Little Art Theater had a rope at the back of the theater, and black people had to sit behind that rope. They have a plaque recognizing the event Reverend Matthews attended that led to his integration, ”said McGruder.

Matthews also joined the AME Central Chapel Church, according to Gudgel. Gudgel insisted that “recognizing the life and achievements of Dr Matthews is a long overdue recognition for a person who has made many firsts.”

The Matthews family have also worked to ensure that the legacy of Wheeling Gaunt remains strong. Gaunt Park, bequeathed to the village by Gaunt, had evolved from farmland to the town’s landfill. According to Gudgel, the village, “partly through the efforts of Rev. Matthews and his wife, Pat, was able to remove the landfill, and they were instrumental in building the swimming pool and sports fields.”

The Reverend Matthews plaque committee was also grateful for the help provided by The 365 Project to support their efforts to increase public awareness of Matthews’ legacy and that of other black villagers by refocusing black history. in the community.

“We often say that Yellow Springs is this groovy place because of Antioch College,” Egart said, “but I think refocusing what the black citizens of Yellow Springs have created in this city, the groove we love in this. community is its best manifestation. “

“What’s really important to recognize, you know, it wasn’t the city of Arthur Morgan, it wasn’t the city of Antioch, this city was built long ago by Afro- Very community-conscious Americans who came here, ”Egart added.

An exhibit featuring Reverend Matthews’ contributions is currently on display at the Yellow Springs Library through July 11. The news will notify the community when the plaque is installed at the Senior Center.

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