Celebrating the Life of UGRR Museum Curator Dr. John Mattox
“Life is the ultimate learning experience.” – Dr. John S. Mattox
Belmont County Tourism lost a dear friend and partner in tourism with the passing of Dr. John S. Mattox in July. Dr. Mattox and his late wife, Rosalind founded the Underground Railroad Museum in 1994. Following her passing, John continued as the curator of the museum. Generations of children will remember him from school tours of the museum. He had a way of imparting knowledge and encouraging questions while being approachable and welcoming. He was a much sought after lecturer and source of information on many topics related to slavery and the Underground Railroad.
John’s list of accomplishments, honors, and involvement in the community is almost as endless as were the stories he told and the life experiences he shared. In 2008, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of public service from Ohio University. He also received the Austin C. Furbee Award in 2016 from the Eastern Ohio Alumni Chapter of Ohio University. He was named Belmont County Tourism Person of the Year and Heritage Ohio honored him for his tireless work in 2017. Mattox and the museum were also accepted to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.
John served for many years on the board of the Ohio National Road Association. In addition to his tireless work at the museum, he was involved with the preservation of the Benjamin Lundy House in St. Clairsville and spearheaded the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration in 2016. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.
John was also involved with tourism outside the county, having served on the committee to plan the 250th anniversary of Wheeling’s founding.
He was a member of the Trinity Gospel Fellowship Church of Flushing. He was a past commander of the American Legion Post 366. (Both are stops on the 47th Annual Rubberneck Tour being dedicated to his memory on Sunday, Oct. 13. See previous blog post about the tour with a link to download a brochure).
John enjoyed volunteering with various community organizations and serving on the national board for A Special Wish Foundation, which he founded a chapter of in Belmont County. He was also a board member on the Union Local School District Board of Education, Harrison Community Hospital, Ohio University Eastern, Sargus Juvenile Center, Belmont Correctional Institution, and numerous other organizations. John was posthumously honored by the Wheeling NAACP for his service to the community.
A Celebration of Life will be held following the Rubberneck Tour at 6:30 p.m. at Zion Christian Retreat Lakeside Pavilion in Flushing. Speakers will include: former Ohio House Representative Andy Thompson; Belmont County Commissioner JP Dutton; Wheeling Heritage Association member Margaret Brennan; Larry Bandi of A Special Wish Foundation; Cathy Nelson, representing the Friends of Freedom Society and the Ohio National Road Association; and Belmont County Tourism Council Executive Director Barb Ballint. Closing remarks will be made by John’s children, John R. Mattox Jr. and Suzanne Mattox Evans.
For more information about the event, contact the Tourism Council at 740-695-4359.