Share This Page

Books honor a life that never really began

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Jim Matthes and his wife Ramona sort through books that were collected for Elizabeth’s Book Drive, a campaign launched by their son and daughter-in-law after their first child, Elizabeth Luke Matthes, was stillborn July, 25 2012. Photo taken on Friday, July 19, 2013.

Marianne Matthes prepared the nursery for her daughter, filling it with old books she could not part with.

This was going to be a special place where a mother passed the books she loved — and the wonder in them — to her daughter.

But when her first child, Elizabeth Luke Matthes, was stillborn on July 25, 2012, the world stopped for Matthes and her husband, Lance, who met as 12-year-olds while growing up in Ontario, Ohio, about 160 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

“She was full-term, and we were both perfectly healthy,” said Matthes, 32, of Wylie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. “It was textbook normal.”

On the morning doctors couldn't find her daughter's heartbeat, “it was like my whole life stopped, changed in an instant,” she said. “I will miss her always.”

From that despair came inspiration.

The couple launched a nonprofit charity in their daughter's name and spent the past year collecting new and used children's books that they plan to deliver to children in need in three states, including Pennsylvania, from Thursday through Saturday.

They turned to “the generosity of strangers” to help make a difference in the lives of other children.

“It's amazing how many kids in this world don't have books,” Matthes said.

The almost 10,000 books they collected through Elizabeth's Book Drive include donations from Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation, author Dean Koontz and many school-age children who heard their story and wanted to help, Matthes said.

“Even our mail lady has left books on our doorstep,” said Lance Matthes, 32.

Agencies on the receiving end of the effort said it comes at a time of reduced funding and cutbacks in book giveaway programs.

“We believe it's important that children have books in their homes,” said Alice Nunes, CEO of the Butler County Children's Center HeadStart program, which will receive books from the drive. “When you're low-income ... usually books are the last thing you buy.”

The agency distributes books three times a year to 700 children at nine sites. It eliminated book giveaways from its budget and relies on donated books to carry on a program that officials said can make a difference in a child's life.

“It's just amazing what that does,” Nunes said. “The kids love to pick out their own books.”

James and Ramona Matthes, Lance Matthes' parents, collected more than 3,000 books from their home in Sarver.

“It's been real good. ... Of course, my basement will be relieved to see them go,” said Jim Matthes before he left to collect two more book donations.

Response to the drive expanded the distribution plans. Books will be distributed in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Columbus and Mansfield, Ohio, at three hospitals, two food pantries, an agency that supplies an orphanage in Zambia, an emergency shelter for abused children and a shelter for abused women and children.

“This charity has really helped with our healing process and gives us something to look forward to,” Marianne Matthes said. “Some days this is the only thing that keeps me going.”

Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.