KOKOMO, Ind. — For Fred Matthes, earning his college degree is more than preparing for his own future.
It’s about honoring family members gone too soon — including both parents and his younger brother — and building a legacy in their memories.
“My dad taught us if we worked together, we could accomplish anything,” he said. “My parents were devout Catholics, very passionate about service. They would get us all up early on a Saturday morning to volunteer picking up trash along the highway. If our friends didn’t have something they needed, my dad would always try to get it for them. He taught us that if we worked together, we could accomplish anything.”
Fred, who graduated from Indiana University Kokomo in May, is the 10th of 12 children. He lost his mother, Nadine Matthes, to cancer when he was 16, and then his younger brother, Matthew, died from a head injury after a fall. His father John A. Matthes, a Vietnam veteran, passed away a few years later.
Reeling from those losses, and not ready for college, Fred chose to work at the Indiana Packers pork processing plant instead of going to college. He and Matthew had talked about working together when they grew up, and he couldn’t imagine what he would do without his brother.
A mentor on the job, Ty Babegger, encouraged him to set his sights higher than the plant, and told him about his own experiences on the IU Kokomo campus.
“He said he understood I’d gone through loss and grief, but that my family would want me to move on and do something positive,” he said. “I came here and saw what IU Kokomo had to offer, and how the staff really cared for us as students.”
As he prepared to enroll, he turned to his older brother, John J. Matthes, for advice. John was in dental school, and suggested they work together in a dental practice once both graduated.
Their goals aren’t just to enrich their own lives — they want to build up the practice to support their dream of providing free and low-cost dental care.
“For me, it’s being a good person, being a good human. To me, that’s more important than any money I may make,” Fred said. “Someone will be able to rest easy knowing they have a healthy smile, and then they can give back. I don’t know that there is a price you can put on that.”
The plan also allows the brothers to honor Matthew.
“My little brother was an awesome guy. We had plans to do something amazing together,” Fred said. “By working with John, I get to help give back to the world part of what Matthew would have given. I think that’s meaningful for myself and all of those he would have impacted.”
Once he decided he would manage his brother’s practice, Fred mapped out a plan to graduate as quickly as possible. A self-described “glutton for punishment,” he took 21 credit hours most semesters to graduate in just under three years.
While he was intent on earning his degree in business, with concentrations in finance, economics, and management, he also took electives outside his field, in addition to colloquiums required to complete the honors program.
Those classes balanced his education, Fred said, providing a humanities perspective on his business career. School became his full-time job, year-round, including taking as many classes as possible during summer school. He also gave back by joining and volunteering for many extracurricular activities.
He graduated with very little student debt, because of Twenty-First Century Scholars, and Dependents Education Assistance, part of the Montgomery GI bill, along with other assistance as the son of a veteran.
Fred also began the work of launching John’s practice, in addition to his class load, incorporating it as his required applied learning experience for the School of Business. Adam Smith, assistant professor of management, mentored him through the process. Since graduating, he’s moved to New York City to join the business full time.
He thrived on the heavy workload, regularly earning dean’s list honors, and won the outstanding student award from the School of Business in May.
IU Kokomo provided the community he needed to prepare for this next step, he said.
“I made a point of going to office hours to meet every professor,” he said. “All of them are beyond phenomenal as teachers, guides, and mentors. They don’t let you off the hook, they hold you accountable. They’ve chiseled us into these awesome critical scholars. We’re ready to take on what the world throws at us.”
He noted it’s not just the faculty who have impacted him.
“Everyone at IU Kokomo really cares about the students, and what they want to do,” he said. “Everyone from Jimmy in the kitchen to the custodian who asks how I’m doing has shaped my experience. There’s not a person I can walk by in the hallway and not know. This is a community. That’s how I would describe IU Kokomo.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.