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Mattox lends needed help and hope

December 2, 2010
By KIM LOCCISANO Times Leader Staff Writer

"She called me because she needed help and I couldn't turn her away without some possibility of finding help, I just couldn't do that to someone in need."

Turning someone in need away without offering them some sort of positive information or helpful connection is just not something Dr. John S. Mattox of Flushing is capable of doing. This trait becomes eminently clear after spending even a small amount of time with this distinguished gentleman.

A helpful and hopeful response is virtually guaranteed for almost any call for help that is fortunate enough to reach the ears of local historian, educator, and retired businessman, and museum founder and curator Dr. John S. Mattox, a man dedicated to making the world a better place today, and for generations yet to come.

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HELPING?OTHERS in as many was as possible has always been foremost in the life of Flushing resident John Mattox. Known as a man grace, humility and humanity,Mattox is also the curator of the Underground Railroad Museum and is the local “go to” person with A Special Wish Foundation Inc.

What makes him particularly special to co-workers, friends and family is a personal unwillingness to ignore another's troubles - large of small, regardless the challenges he faces on a personal or professional level at that moment.

Mattox was selected as the person to be featured in this month's "Hey! That's My Neighbor" article after being nominated by longtime friend, and fellow Flushing resident, Nancy Toto who was recognized in this once monthly feature herself, in June of this year, after having been nominated by Mattox for her many good works in the local area and beyond.

Theirs is a friendship forged of countless hours spent in mutual volunteering efforts of a broad scope reaching from the grassroots level to national platforms.

"See, it's just that kind of thing that made me want to nominate him for this," Toto offered, after Mattox recounted basic details of the recently received phone call from an individual in need of help to remedy a home based problem.

Though it was not the sort of help routinely available through the organization whose resources were being sought by contacting Mattix, he simply was not able to find it in his heart to turn her away without some guidance in the direction of a possible remedy for her dilemma.

He is a man who believes deeply in the power of positive wishes - especially when they have to do with helping a child who is facing a possibly life-threatening illness get the chance to live their wish.

He has been working for some time now to bring the wishes of many children to life - one child at a time - through his position as president of the Wheeling based arm of A Special Wish Foundation.

It is not at all something he ever sees as a duty or a job.

Mattix can only see his work through this organization as one thing: a distinguished honor.

A man of many hats - yes, he has even been a "Red Hat" on occasion, Mattox is first and foremost a loving husband to the woman he has always known was the love of his life, his wife "Rozz"; he is a proud father to their son and daughter; and a devoted grandfather to four grandchildren.

Even in the face of the reoccurring darkness that brain cancer has tried to inflict on their life together, the devoted couple refuse to be enveloped by the overburdening weight Rozz's third battle with brain cancer could all too easily bring.

"Most people don't know John is the primary caregiver for his wife, Rozz," offered Toto, herself a seasoned cancer survivor. "She is fighting a brain tumor for the third time, and he is right there for her 24-7...he is always right there for her!"

A man of grace, humility and humanity, Mattox sees his life as having been very blessed, and considers every moment of any given day as another opportunity to share his positive outlook of our world with others - particularly with those carrying almost any kind of real, and as yet, unanswered need.

"I am a love child. I never knew my father, and my birth mother died when I was very young," he offered during a recent opportunity to reflect on influences which ultimately shaped his life's path from childhood through present day. He was one of three boys his step-father was suddenly responsible for following his mother's death.

The death of the woman who gave him life influenced all the subsequent major developments in his life for years to come.

It was the strong positive influence he felt when adopted by an aunt who lived in New Jersey that he found the footing to start traveling a path which would ultimately bring him to the Ohio Valley and Flushing.

He honors her memory every moment and shares special thanks for her generous care and love simply by being who he is.

"It was her family name I took: Mattox," he shared recently with Toto. "She adopted me."

"See, that's one more thing we have in common - we were both adopted," said Toto, realizing there were basic things the two long-time friends had never taken the time from their projects to discuss.

The loving home offered him by his New Jersey aunt proved to be the all important hinge on which the door to his adult life was resting - just waiting for him to decide how far open he wanted to throw it on his first effort.

Even his opportunity for happiness as a husband and father was found just one floor and a knock on a then closed door away.

When they initially met John and Rozz lived one floor of an apartment building apart.

Eventually the couple made their way from New Jersey and New York to the Ohio Valley, a place to which Rozz had previous roots.

While taking full advantage of a period of time available to him to simply get acquainted with his new surroundings, Mattox became aware of just how close the dividing line of the Civil War Era, the Mason-Dixon Line, was to his new home.

From that discovery grew his need to find out more about what this dividing line actually meant to those living in the region around the time of the Civil War.

His curiosity about Civil War era life and lifestyles grew from his initial interest in learning the details - no matter how large or small - that brought men and women of various races to make the decisions they did, to motivate them to action or restrain them from it - all of it tying somehow to lessons learned of life's similarities and differences on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

His personal experience with military life came during a tour of duty in the air force.

The Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing continues to be the center of Mattox's life as an educator, historian and tireless volunteer. He regularly receives requests for speaking engagements from schools and organizations from throughout the region and beyond.

Always welcoming of new additions to consider adding to his museum's display and resources shelves, Mattox religiously finds the time to review and inspect each item offered for donation to the collection.

His reasoning for this level of attention to detail is simple.

"If someone asks me a question about something in the museum I want to be able to give them a good and factual answer. It's important to me to be able to do that," he said. "I'm a detective, I like to discover new things and to find answers to questions before someone asks me the question."

The museum has become well known across this nation, a reality about which Mattox is proud.

His greatest source of pride - outside that which he holds for his beloved family and friends - is for those students he knows he has connected to the lessons of history through his efforts.

"I know I have reached them when they can answer a question for me about something here in the museum or that we have just talked about in the classroom. This is a way to provide these young people some perspective through which to view history and today's life as well."

Dr. John S. Mattox is himself nothing short of a living legend carrying with him a wealth of knowledge and information priceless to us all.

Loccisano may be reached at



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