By Rob Peterson
Nona Mattheis lived every moment of her 109 years. “She never let much grass grow under her feet,” said her youngest daughter, Margaret Miller of Schoolcraft.
The activity may have been a habit built from a young age, since she started working as a teenager to help support her father. She worked at Elam’s Stationery for a time, and then worked raising their family and tending to the animals on their 40-acre farm just south of Vicksburg. She sold the eggs from their chickens to make extra money while her husband, Vern, worked at the Lee Paper Company.
When Vern passed in 1965, she went to work at Arco in Schoolcraft. “She didn’t give up easily,” said Margaret.
She loved physical activity, starting with her teen years when she played basketball for Vicksburg and continuing until she was 100, when she finally stopped teaching line dancing. “She loved to dance,” said Margaret. “Every Saturday, she would drive the girls to the Helen Cover Center in Kalamazoo to dance. She enjoyed the heck out of it.”
Nona traveled frequently, taking trips that often included family. She took a train to Texas, and she took a camper to Alaska. She camped up and down the West Coast and watched whales off the East Coast. “She really loved to travel,” said her eldest daughter, Phyllis Barrett of Schoolcraft.
Her travels usually centered around her family, like her visits to her son while he served in the military or the annual family reunion at Round Lake.
One of her first trips, appropriately enough for someone so focused on her family, was to elope with Vern Mattheis to LaGrange in 1932, not long after they were set up on a blind date. They raised four children in Vicksburg and remained together until Vern passed away.
Her active life also included many acts of service, first to her family and then to her community. Much of that service involved food. “She was an excellent cook,” said Margaret. “She could cook just about anything. I loved her potatoes and dumpling soup that she would make on Saturdays.”
She brought enough food to the annual family reunion to feed everyone there, and she would feed the men who came to thresh wheat on their farm every year. She spent 21 years delivering food for Meals on Wheels, making a record number of deliveries. “She enjoyed being around people and doing things to help them,” said Margaret.
Her community service also included her involvement at Vicksburg United Methodist Church, the Vicksburg Community Center, the Eagles Lodge and the Rebekah Lodge, where she served as the Noble Grand.
She kept friends and family close her entire life. “I don’t think I ever saw her get mad or lose her patience,” said Phyllis.
Thanks to her active lifestyle, her independent nature, and her large support network, she was able to stay in her Vicksburg apartment until she was 104 years old. “Everyone kept an eye on her,” said Margaret, “but she was never under their thumb.”
She will be missed, but “We were blessed to have her for so long,” said Margaret.