Tree dedicated to lifelong educator breaking boundaries

Warren Nichols, College of the Mainland president, and Bennie Matthews, educator and COM board member, next to the tree dedicated in Matthews’ honor.

College of the Mainland student Cameryn Tam hopes to run for political office and found inspiration in an educator elected to the College of the Mainland board of trustees for 34 years – Bennie Matthews.

“She has inspired me to never give up on my aspirations and to not let any intimidation or discrimination keep me from completing them,” said Tam. “Mrs. Matthews has broken racial and gender boundaries by serving high positions on many committees and boards especially at a time when it was difficult for African-American women to run for those positions."

A tree dedication ceremony at COM March 21 honored Matthews, an educator for 42 years, for her service and leadership.

Person after person, from former students to co-workers, rose to honor a woman dedicated to the community and education.

“She was a champion for employees and students,” said Larry Stanley, COM president from 1983-2000.

Several students and colleagues spoke of “that look” – Matthews’ expression showing that she knew a person could do better.

“I’m one of your branches, Ms. Matthews,” said Geraldine Sam, former mayor of La Marque, gesturing to the newly dedicated tree. “No child left behind – Ms. Matthews had that slogan. She had discipline in her classroom. She had that look. She always said you could be anything you wanted to be. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk.” 

Matthews was elected to the COM board of trustees in 1983 and has served variously as a chairman, vice chairman, secretary and board member. Matthews also served on COM Foundation board and participated in fundraisers for COM scholarships.

“There’s no tremendous heat [today] but a lot of love and friendship. There is hope,” Matthews said as she displayed a wooden block with the word “hope” inscribed. “We need love and leadership.”

Matthews won a scholarship to Huston-Tillotson University and became a charter member of the local branch of the NAACP, where she was the first secretary of the Texas Youth Division. She attended New Mexico Highlands University and Stanford University and earned a Master of Science in chemistry, physics and mathematics. Matthews graduated with honors and began her 42 years of teaching in La Grange, Texas, in 1950. 

"My philosophy is and has always been to encourage students not to limit themselves to anything. After students graduate from public school, I encourage them to not limit themselves to historically black universities or any college or career,” said Matthews.

Matthews taught at Lincoln High School in La Marque before integration in 1968 and after integration she taught at La Marque High School. She taught algebra, geometry, physical science and physics.

“To me, [there was] no change [after integration], because my summer teaching at different colleges with different ethnic groups had prepared me to teach in an integrated school. I already had the experience, so teaching at an integrated public school was a seamless transition,” said Matthews.

The ceremony also highlighted Women’s History Month on campus, honoring trailblazing women in the Galveston County community in education, leadership and service.

“We value educators’  support, their ability to see us for more than we see ourselves, their belief that we can be unstoppable in any situation. They push us to go beyond our comfort zones, to question everything, to research the world around us, and to find the answers we are looking for,” said Kaci Maris, president of the COM Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Geraldine Sam, former mayor of La Marque and student of Bennie Matthews, shares about Matthews’ encouragement of her and other students.

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