James W. Matthews


James Matthews served as the chair of the volunteer flower-planting project on campus for many years.

Cooperative Extension has received word of the passing of James W. Matthews, a well-respected former director of Extension.

Dr. Matthews arrived in Fairbanks from Minot, N.D., in January of 1957 after driving the Alaska Highway. He was guided by a copy of the Milepost sent to him by his future friend and mentor, Art Buswell. It was a chilly 50 degrees below zero. 

Under the leadership of Director Allen Mick, and Associate Director Art Buswell, Matthews moved up quickly through Extension from agent to statewide Extension program leader, assistant director and associate director. In 1972, he was appointed director, a position he held until his retirement in 1987. 

Matthews earned his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from North Dakota State Agricultural College in 1952 and managed a family hereford ranch for three years before joining Extension in North Dakota.  He came to Interior Alaska in 1957 as an agent and was granted leave three years later to earn a master’s degree in Extension education at the University of Wisconsin. Matthews received a sabbatical leave award in 1966 and returned to the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a doctorate in Extension administration in 1970.

While Matthews served as director, Extension established more offices around the state, including Kotzebue, Ketchikan, Sitka, Dillingham, Aniak, Bethel, Kodiak, Petersburg and Kenai. He also expanded the Tanana District to include communities along the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers. Matthews also led the development of the Marine Advisory Program.

Matthews was lead administrator for the University of Alaska in acquiring a $1.5 million Kellogg Foundation grant to help Alaska Native leaders build organizational and operational skills related to managing the resources gained in their historic land claims settlement.

While director, Matthews served nine years as the university’s Extension representative on the National Extension Committee for Organization and Policy (ECOP) and 15 years on the National Extension Regional Board of Directors representing 13 Western states, Guam and Micronesian territories.

After he retired, Matthews remained affiliated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  He led an endowment fund effort awarding graduating UAF seniors who as students have demonstrated significant public service accomplishments. The endowment honors the memory of Dr. Arthur S. Buswell, a former vice president of UAF and director of Cooperative Extension. He was also a member of the UAF College of Fellows and chaired the annual volunteer flower-planting project for the campus. 

Matthews was involved in many volunteer organizations in Fairbanks as well, including Fairbanks Host Lions Club and the Yukon Quest dog race. He served for many years on the boards of directors of the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Foundation, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and the Community Library Board. 

At his retirement, Matthews established a volunteer leadership development fund, with the university, providing grants to help build skills and experience for Extension volunteers in Alaska. The fund has supported leadership training for Extension volunteers for more than 20 years. 

Fred Schlutt, the current Extension director, said, “Dr. Matthews was a relentless supporter and advocate of CES. He has been a good friend and mentor of mine since I arrived in Fairbanks four years ago. We had lunch three to four times a year and he would tell me about the history of UAF and Alaska CES and offered a great deal of valuable advice. I had lunch with Dr. Matthews within the last month. I will miss his presence.”

James W. Matthews passed away on Monday, Jan. 28. The Cooperative Extension Service extends condolences to Dr. Matthew's wife, Barbara and children, Shannon and Stefan.

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