He was known for his booming voice, his big laugh, and his signature sunglasses and white Cadillac. And, next to his family and his faith, his greatest love was for Wauseon, the city he wholeheartedly adopted.
Former Mayor and Councilor Jerry Matheny, 79, died Thursday of congestive heart and kidney failure after struggling with illness for more than a decade. His funeral will be held 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 6, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Wauseon, where he was a longtime member. He will be buried in Wauseon Union Cemetery.
Visitation will be 2-8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at Edgar-Grisier Funeral Home in Wauseon.
His family and friends are remembering Matheny as a charismatic, expansive personality who was confident in expressing his opinions and steered Wauseon as mayor for 12 years with deep passion and determination.
“He loved being mayor. He loved taking that position to heart,” said his son, Marc. “He loved being civic-minded, and he loved making Wauseon better.”
A native of Detroit, Mich., Matheny was born Aug. 24, 1937. He moved to Stryker at age three, where he was adopted by his grandparents. After graduating from high school in 1955, he and his wife of 57 years, Sandy, married in 1959 and moved to Wauseon, where they owned and operated flooring, floor cleaning, and tool rental businesses over several decades. Their last business was Books Brass and Candles, which they sold and retired from in 2005.
But public service was Matheny’s wheelhouse, and he dove in enthusiastically. He served on Wauseon City Council between 1980-86, and as the city’s mayor from 1992-2004. Marc Matheny said that’s where his father hit his stride.
“He loved Wauseon. He loved the people. He loved the entire job,” he said. “He always had a deep passion for Wauseon. He wanted to pay back and do more. Even today, people called him ‘Mr. Mayor.’”
Matheny felt his greatest accomplishment as mayor was striking an agreement with the City of Napoleon to share a water line from the Maumee River.
“He was adamant about the water project,” his son said. “They used to go out every night, checking the progress and keeping everybody on track.”
Bill Drummer, executive director of the Wauseon Chamber of Commerce, said Matheny was instrumental in getting his former business, CDD Inc., off the ground. Matheny encouraged the city to offer Drummer a business loan, and negotiated with Toledo Edison to reduce the company’s bill.
“Those are the kinds of things that you remember,” Drummer said. “If it wasn’t for Jerry, I don’t think I’d have been able to (start the business). He was all about helping the local merchant, the local investor, any way he could.”
Matheny was always approachable as mayor, he said. And he consistently showed his concern for people, such as calling on elderly citizens to ask what they may need.
“I thought a lot of Jerry. He was more of a mentor,” Drummer added. “He was somebody that I sort of molded myself after, because he was all about Wauseon. He did it all as mayor, and he loved this town.”
While straightforward in his mayoral duties, Matheny regularly displayed a sensitive, considerate side to city employees.
“He was a people person,” Marc said. “He knew everybody’s birthdays and anniversaries, and he’d call them on their office phone and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them.”
In the evenings, the mayor would swing through town in his white Cadillac. If he saw residents sprucing up their homes or yards he’d stop to offer a compliment.
“He’d always say, ‘Thank you, you’re doing a good job,’” Marc recalled. “If they were doing something nice, he told them. His big thing was always making the city look clean and welcoming.”
He said his father, who regularly wore sunglasses to shield eyes sensitive to light, was strong and confident in sharing his opinions, “and he believed wholeheartedly what he thought.”
He called Matheny a good father who gave each of his three sons a pet name, and taught them good values, a good work ethic, and a dedication to home, family, community, and church.
“He was a traditional father, but you couldn’t pull anything over on him. We knew better, so we just didn’t do it,” Marc said, laughing.
He said Matheny’s marriage to Sandy was a true, loving partnership, adding, “When you saw one, you saw the other.”
The outpouring of emotion from citizens to Matheny’s family members leaves them honored, Marc said. As an example, he said, former Boy Scouts his father led, now adults, have expressed gratefulness for his positive influence on their lives.
“The community has been extremely supportive and loving toward our family,” he said.
Jerry Matheny was at peace before he died, and knew he would take a heavenly path, Marc said.
“He loved Wauseon, he loved his family, he loved his church,” he said. “And he loved Wauseon, and served it to the best of his ability.”
He is survived by his wife, his sons, Marc, Scott, and Chris, his grandchildren, and great-children.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.