News reports from Meridian, Mississippi, delivered the sad news that Don Mathis, a standout athlete at Chadron High School in the 1950s, drowned Thursday afternoon (4/9/09) in a boating accident.
Don was a 1955 graduate of CHS, where he played football and basketball. He was the fullback and placekicker on the Cardinal's undefeated 1954 team. He went on to play center for the Chadron State Eagles and later earned entry into the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame. Don and his wife, Wyoma (Brown), moved to Mississippi many years ago, where they operated a successful small business just south of Meridian.
According to WTOK-TV in Meridian, rescue officials believed Don may have been trying to get his boat onto a trailer and that perhaps the boat started to drift. The accident occurred at Okatibbee Lake northwest of Meridian. The Lauderdale County coroner said Don Mathis was pulled from the lake late Thursday afternoon after a search of the area by divers. His boat had been seen floating empty in the lake.
Only last month, we had told the story about Don and some of his buddies making a trek to Yellowstone Park in 1955 -- Youthful adventures of the 1950s. Their trek took place shortly after Don had graduated from high school, and they took some pictures along the way. After graduating at Chadron State College in 1959, Don taught school in Taylor, Nebraska; Hot Springs, South Dakota, and Fort Dodge, Iowa, before moving to Mississippi.
A teammate on the 1952-53 basketball team at Chadron High, Mike Smith, has noted in an e-mail that Don is the latest of several CHS athletes from the early 1950s who've passed away. Others were John Christopher, Tom Blundell, Lou Riemenschneider, and Bill McCarter.
We have fond memories of visiting with Don and Wyoma Mathis in Chadron during an all-school reunion some years back. It was a bit of serendipity that, like Don and Wyoma, we also lived in Mississippi -- but we all had to return to Chadron to share memories! Until checking upon Don's graduation from CSC in the Alumni Directory this week, I didn't know that he and I shared another common experience -- we both went to graduate school at Iowa State University in Ames.
Don Mathis was 72 years old when he died. An on-line obituary can be found at this link to the Meridian Star. Addional information about Don's career can be found in a story published on-line by the Chadron Record on April 14, 2009. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Wyoma and the entire Mathis family over their loss.