American Patriotic 10

Harold Lee Matthias

November 22, 1937 ~ December 14, 2021 (age 84)

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Obituary

Harold Lee Matthias, known as Hal or Harold Lee, died on December 14th, 2021 from a combination of heart disease and long-term effects of his military service.

 

Hal is survived by his wife Kay, daughters Rebecca and Diana, sister Rae Harris, brothers-in-law Dave Harris and Terry Zittelman, 9 nieces and nephews, and 14 grand nieces and nephews so far. Finally, there is a large contingent of cousins at all levels and degrees of separation, who met up with Hal every two years at our many-storied family reunions in Wisconsin.

 

Hal was born in Ashland, Wisconsin, on November 11, 1937, to Harold E Matthias and Dorothy R Matthias (Ronning). He grew up attending the high school where his father worked as physics teacher, swimming in the waters of Lake Superior and pushing a red wheelbarrow around the family garden. Hal spent his teenage summer years farming the various family plots of land and working for cousin Ralph Peterson. Hal grew up thinking that farming was the finest profession in the world until one magical summer when his Uncle Franklin — the lead engineer at a western dam — gave Hal a tour of the dam. Hal decided then and there that engineering life was for him.

 

There was a strong tradition of military service in Hal’s family, and he was very proud of his great grandfather, German immigrant AB Matthias, who served in the Wisconsin Regiment during the American Civil War. One of the earliest Thompson men, an Army scout, lost his life in the Thierry salient in July 1918. And Hal’s uncle, Franklin Matthias, directed the construction of the Hanford nuclear site, a key facility of the Manhattan Project during WWII. Hal Matthias joined Army ROTC at the University of Wisconsin (Go Badgers!), majoring in mechanical engineering. After graduation, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers. His proudest work was helping Pennsylvania recover from Hurricane Agnes in 1972, but Hal worked on many sites, engaging in a wide variety of engineering jobs. He was lead engineer in building a port facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, even hosting the King of Saudi Arabia on an inspection visit. He also spent years in the Pacific Northwest working on dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Although his masters was in Nuclear Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, Hal was seldom more comfortable that when he was wearing his construction hat and boots.

 

The joy of building continued into his civilian jobs, as Hal worked on the Baltimore tunnel and train station renovations in the 1980’s. He decided to work closer to home after the Maryland jobs, and so became head of engineering at Inova Fairfax Hospital where he oversaw the construction of Fair Oaks Hospital, ending his career with a job that was two miles from his home.

 

Hal also loved the outdoors. He grew up fishing and hunting, became an Eagle Scout along the way, and canoed and kayaked everywhere from Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin to the West Coast. He had received a sailing ribbon when he was a Boy Scout, and refreshed those skills while stationed in the Persian Gulf, teaching sailing to his troops as a recreation activity. He taught his daughters snorkeling and took them skiing at a young age, at first on mountains in Pennsylvania and then — once they could ski competently — to join his sister’s family and friends in the West’s great ski meccas of Vail, Tahoe, Snowbird, Aspen and Big Sky, among others. He once celebrated that a broken collarbone came on the last ski run of the last day of the ski season, as it meant he would not miss any skiing while he recuperated.

 

Throughout his life, Hal enjoyed travel. When stationed in Germany, he made a point of exploring the region with his wife. A year into their marriage, they invited Hal’s parents to Europe for a two-month tour. While stationed in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, he took the family adventuring to places like Egypt, Kenya, Jordan, Syria and Israel. Ever game for more exploring, over the last 25 years, he visited his daughters in Russia and China, Taiwan and Macau, as well as joining family trips to Morocco, Belize, Okinawa and Hong Kong. Hal and Kay celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in a sailboat off the Turkish coast, their 50th in the Galapagos, and their 60th in Hawaii.

 

Hal suffered from hearing loss due to his military service, and his hearing capabilities decreased every year, slowly taking away his ability to enjoy music, plays, movies and eventually, even conversations in crowded restaurants and parties. Upon returning from the family’s last overseas posting in 1979, they joined Pender United Methodist Church, where Hal was an active member until his death. He supported Pender in a variety of activities, ranging from church building activities in Paraguay and construction projects in Philippi, West Virginia to making coffee or ushering on Sunday mornings and Methodist Men activities. He often joked that even though his hearing disability meant that he sometimes couldn’t hear the sermon or Sunday school lessons, he could ensure that people felt welcome. And he could serve in ways that did not require functioning ears!

 

In the last five years, many locals will have seen Hal driving up and down the streets of Greenbriar, the Fair Lakes area and Route 50 on his motorized scooter, providing food for the needy through the Pender United Methodist Church neighborhood mini pantry, feeding minnows in the Little Rocky Run trail, posting signs that identify Chesapeake Bay watershed sewers and drains, and cleaning up our community by picking up trash along the way. An article about his trash collection and environmental work was posted in the November 2021 Greenbriar Flyer. He firmly believed that no matter what stage in life he was in, he should serve and support his community.

 

Hal had extended family all over the US, and he cherished them all and tried to visit regularly. He was very conscious of his grandmother’s ‘family story’ - six Norwegian brothers and sisters emigrated to the US in the late 19th century, from a mountain corral on the Tande estate outside of Tretten, Norway. The seventh (the oldest) remained on the family farm in Norway, but sent his children to join his siblings in the New World. They settled in Wisconsin, and one summer in the 30’s, gathered together for a family picnic. Everyone enjoyed it so much that the tradition has continued, bad coffee and all, until the present day. Most of these details were passed along via anecdotes and stories, but after Hal retired, he picked up genealogy as a hobby. After about a decade of pouring through family newsletters, immigration and grave records, newspapers, family bibles, and the (then-budding) online genealogy records, Hal pieced together records showing that the family line dated back to Harald I the Fairhair in the late 800’s. He always said his best conversations were with the grandmothers in his family, as they usually remembered everyone’s birthdays and wedding details. Hal did not limit his genealogical research to his own family, helping his wife Kay search out her ancestry details as well.

 

He loved all sorts of card games, especially competitive ones. The family cribbage board never cooled down when visiting relatives. Hal loved bridge most of all, claiming it was a game not just of luck but skill and ability. He was a member of the Greenbriar Bridge Club, and tried to learn new conventions up to the last few months before his death.

 

A service to celebrate his life will be held on January 8th, 2022, at Pender United Methodist Church in Fairfax, Virginia. Due to weather and COVID, his family will understand if folks prefer to tune in online rather than appear in person. In about 12-15 months, Hal will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in recognition of his 20+ years of military service in the Army Corps of Engineers.

 

In lieu of flowers, Hal’s family may wish to send donations to St Paul’s Norwegian Cemetery in Curtiss, Wisconsin. Friends are welcome to send donations to the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org).

 

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Harold, please visit our floral store.


Services

Celebration of Life
Saturday
January 8, 2022

11:00 AM
Pender United Methodist Church
12401 Alder Woods Drive
Fairfax, VA 22033

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