In 1960, two neighborhood baseball coaches, Martin Luther Mathews and the late Hubert “Dickey” Ballentine, co-founded an organization that aimed to instill the values of “respect, restraint and responsibility” to youth from age 5 to 18.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the history of the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club and a book that details it. Joining the discussion were Martin Luther Mathews, co-founder of the non-profit organization, and Richard Weiss, writing coach and former editor and reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Listen to the full discussion:
Weiss wrote the book, "I Trust You With My Life,” which tells the story of Mathews and the many lives he transformed with co-founder Ballentine at the Club. The organization annually provides educational, athletic and cultural enrichment programs and special events to thousands of youth throughout the St. Louis area.
In the book, the lives of some those who went through the program were also highlighted. Many of the kids went on to get into the “helping professions,” such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and social workers.
Mathews said he often hears back from those who went through the program.
“This was my most favorite project in my life,” Weiss said. He was originally contracted to only interview around a dozen of former participants of the Club, but “everybody [Mathews] referred me to had a fascinating story, so I ended up interviewing like 75 or 80 people.”
The title behind the book comes from the trust the Club built with families, where parents would leave their kids under their supervision while at work.
“That’s what we want to do, create a safe environment where [the parents and kids] trust you and you trust them,” Mathews said.
Both Mathews and Ballentine often had to use their own money to continue operating the Club, including taking out second mortgages to finance it. Weiss said Mathews was offered many jobs where he could’ve “climbed the corporate ladder” but turned them down to stay in St. Louis and continue operating the Club.
As the organization grew, many in the community continued to raise funds for the Club and in 1979, Mathews was able to transfer the original site to the facility still open today.
The organization went on to impress many in St. Louis and even the president at the time, Ronald Reagan, who visited the Club in 1982.
“[Reagan said] ‘Look, I want you to be a model for the country because I’ve been everywhere, seen everything – but this is the greatest place I’ve ever been,’” Mathews said. “That makes me feel good and know I made the right decision not to accept all those great offers I had.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.