Merle Mathis, 84, of 1698 N. Algona, passed away early Sunday morning, June 28, 2009, at home.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 2, at Nativity Catholic Church. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Key West, Iowa, with a flag presentation accorded by the Dubuque American Legion Post 6. Friends may call from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, at Siegert-Casper Colonial Funeral Home and Cremation Services, 390 N. Grandview, where the rosary will be recited at 3 p.m.
He was born on Feb. 15, 1925, at Mercy Medical Center, son of Arnold Mathis and Caroline Vogler. Growing up in Dubuque, he attended Holy Ghost and Dubuque Senior High School.
At age 18, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he served as a waist gunner in a B-17 "Flying Fortress" unit based in Great Britain during World War II. He completed 30 missions in the European theater before his discharge, and his bomber jacket, emblazoned with the logo of his "Hazard Express" crew, still hangs in his closet.
Returning to Dubuque after a brief stint in Pampas, Texas, where he had been recruited to play in a highly competitive softball league, he married Margaret Coakley at St. Patrick's Church on May 7, 1949.
A talented athlete, Merle joined Holy Ghost's eighth-grade baseball team as a 10-year-old and spent many years playing softball and baseball for teams around the area as a sought-after pitcher, in softball, and first baseman, in baseball. Known to many of his friends and teammates as "Matty," he was a member of the Dubuque baseball and softball halls of fame. He also was an excellent bowler, with a number of 700 series to his credit.
Later in life, he became an ardent golfer, although to the best of anyone's knowledge, he never earned any official accolades in that particular field.
Merle worked in the Dubuque Community Schools system for many years as a custodian and a coach at Bryant Elementary girls' after-school sports program. Many of the students in the program went on to participate in basketball, volleyball and track and field at the high school and college levels.
Along with his wife, he also volunteered for the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps. Their involvement began when their daughters joined the corps, but they continued driving, organizing, and wrangling teenagers for many years afterward, and together are members of the Colts' hall of fame.
After his retirement, Merle worked part-time for Bird Chevrolet as a shuttle driver and spent as much time as he could with his friends, including the "lunch bunch," who met every Friday at Breezy's, family and favorite living room recliner, in which he spent many hours barely tolerating his lifelong tormentors in the Cubs' bullpen.
In his later years, he was resilient in the face of health problems and attended every graduation, Mass, drum corps show and social gathering that he could, despite many aches, pains and more serious maladies.
Merle was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend and will be dearly missed.
Surviving are his wife, Margaret; his sister, Roselyn "Rosie" Corbett, of Dubuque; his daughters, Susan (Joe) Mathis-Lilley, of Fort Collins, Colo., Lynne (Eric) Opstad, of Anchorage, Alaska, Patricia (Dennis) McClain, of Bettendorf, Iowa, and Mary (Joseph) Aleccia, of Phoenix; and his grandchildren, Ben Mathis-Lilley, Andrew and Kathryn McClain, Kristen and Anthony Aleccia, and Kelsey Opstad.
In lieu of flowers, Merle's family would prefer memorial donations be given to Hospice of Dubuque, the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps, the Dubuque County Historical Society and Nativity Church.
Merle and his family are grateful to Dr. Tom Sinsky and his staff at Medical Associates, the Medical Associates physical therapy department, especially Char and Karen, and the Hospice of Dubuque, especially Dawn D. and Jenica, for their committed care. Merle himself was especially thankful for the love and care provided by his wife Marge, and often mentioned how lucky he was to have his "girlfriend," as he affectionately called her, at his side.