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Charles Matthaei: A Lifetime of Service

Charles Matthaei
Ron Wurzer photo
For Charles Matthaei, as for many in what Tom Brokaw termed “the greatest generation,” the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a life-changing experience. Matthaei had entered the UW in 1938, applied for Naval ROTC and was studying chemical engineering when the U.S. entered World War II, interrupting peacetime plans and plunging Matthaei into the thick of the war in the Pacific.

To honor his naval service and a lifetime of philanthropy, civic activism and passionate advocacy of research and programs that promote wellness, Matthaei was honored in November as the second recipient of the UW Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award.

Matthaei spent much of the war on the battleship USS Missouri. “Our first operation with the fleet was to participate in the battle to capture the Japanese island of Iwo Jima,” he recalls. Matthaei had charge of the machine guns on the port quarter of the battleship. He was on deck when a kamikaze pilot hit the ship and later during the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also witnessed firsthand the formal surrender of Japan on the deck of the Missouri.

When Matthaei returned stateside, he went to work in Tacoma for the family business, Roman Meal. Bread has been the Matthaei family’s calling since they opened a bakery in Marburg, Germany in 1686. Under his leadership, Roman Meal became the number one variety bread in the late 1970s. Matthaei’s accomplishments in the field were recognized in 2008 when he was inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame.

The MultiCare Health Foundation and Center for Healthy Living named an award in 2009 after Matthaei and his beloved wife Helen, who died in 2012, for their dedication to community health. The Boy Scouts of America and the Tacoma Rotary have also honored Matthaei.

Matthaei has kept strong ties to the UW community. He was the 2003 Department of Chemical Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus. In 2001, the Charles W. H. Matthaei Endowed Professorship in Chemical Engineering was established.

“Chuck and his late wife Helen have been extraordinary friends of the department,” says Francois Baneyx, current occupant of the Matthaei chair. “The Matthaei Professorship has allowed my group to gather preliminary data, explore high-risk projects, and follow up on serendipitous discoveries when no federal money was available to do so. There is always a twinkle in his eyes when we talk and this makes him younger than many of my students.”

Mathaei’s son William graduated from UW in 1969, and his son Richard received his master’s degree from the Foster School in 1987 (his son Fred graduated from Whitman). Matthaei’s grandson James is carrying on his grandfather’s love of chemical engineering and will receive his doctoral degree from the UW this year. James recalls a story about his grandfather that’s become part of family lore. “He and a colleague were working in the lab in Bagley Hall. They created a kind of gas that filled up the bottom floors of the building. Rather than quit the experiment, they borrowed gas masks so he could keep working. Whatever he’s doing, my grandfather always pushes through to the end.”

2 Responses to Charles Matthaei: A Lifetime of Service

  1. Elmer Skold BA UW 1955 Lifetime Alumni Association member. says:

    Charles Matthaei has brought honor to himself, his family, his community, his country and to the UW. His award is justly earned. May he fully enjoy his remaining time.

  2. Shanda Taylor-Boyd says:

    I love how his grandson takes such great pride in how this HERO has always lived with a “NEVER QUIT and CAN DO” attitude! Often times this character trait is consistently exemplified in our great nation’s servicemen and women. I want to thank James for sharing what will become an amazing legacy! Many congratulations to our UW American Hero.

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