Long-lasting legacies

Published 6:55 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It has been a solemn couple of weeks in southwest Michigan as Edwardsburg, Niles and Dowagiac have mourned the passing of three local icons.

On Thursday, March 9, Jo-Ann Boepple, a former educator and founder of the Edwardsburg History Museum, passed away in Florida.

Later that weekend, John Lidecker, a Niles artist active in the community, passed away at his home.

On Sunday, Dowagiac residents learned of the passing of one of the strongest pillars of the Dowagiac community throughout the past six decades, Dr. Fred Mathews.

The loss of all three individuals made a huge impact on the communities in which they lived, which is a true testament to the way the individuals lived their lives. All three were beloved by their friends and neighbors and were strong community activists. Each had a huge passion for their trades that they shared with others. Perhaps the largest tie between these individuals, though, is that they each leave a legacy behind that will not soon be forgotten.

Jo-Ann Boepple

Jo-Ann touched the lives of countless students as a teacher, college professor and administrator at Edwardsburg Public Schools. The lessons she taught her students and staff will forever be implanted in the mind of countless Edwardsburg alumni and faculty.

Tangible proof of her dedication to Edwardsburg stands at 26818 Main St. in Edwardsburg. Inside the Edwardsburg History Museum, those who visit will find the fruits of countless hours of research on the history of the village and the surrounding areas, carefully cataloged and displayed for all to see.

Jo-Ann wrote columns for the Edwardsburg Argus for more than 18 years, in which she shared stories and fun facts with the people of Edwardsburg.

John Lidecker

Visible proof of the legacy John Lidecker left behind in Niles may be found all over the town in the signs and artwork he created for innumerable local businesses. Folks will remember John as they see his art for years to come, but with or without the pieces, it is clear John left his mark on the city of Four Flags.

This fact was made evident this past weekend as Front Street Pizza filled wall to wall with Hawaiian shirts and memories. John’s celebration of life was hosted just as the community is sure he would have liked it — with laughs, beers and fellowship.

John will be remembered for his art, but also for his kind heart and love for making Niles a better, more fun place to live.

Dr. Fred Mathews 

Looking around the city of Dowagiac, it is difficult to find an effort Dr. Fred Mathews did not have a hand in. The optometrist was known for setting his sights on a mission and pursuing it with unrelenting efforts until he accomplished the goal.

This happened time and time again with the doctor, through the revitalization of the downtown corridor, through his community service to children in poverty, and, perhaps most notably through the establishment of Southwestern Michigan College.

After a rocky battle, Mathews founded the college in 1964 and served as chair of the board longer than any chair in U.S. history.

His legacy will live on through thousands of students who earned degrees at the college, through the beautiful downtown corridor for which Dowagiac is known, through his endowment and through memories he left with the people of Dowagiac.

Dr. Mathews was truly an icon in southwest Michigan who will not soon be forgotten.

Southwest Michigan is better for having all three of these individuals, and while their communities may never be quite the same without them, they were forever changed because of their presence.

Ambrosia Neldon is the general manager at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7713, or by email at ambrosia.neldon@leaderpub.com.