Scholarship honors longtime resident
Any students looking to apply to the University of Texas at Austin in the future may have another outlet of financial assistance for college from a local source.Billy Roy Mathews has lived in Sweetwater his entire life and is a graduate from the Austin school. In 2010, a scholarship program was started as a tribute to Mathews to award one honor student accepted to the university a $2,000 scholarship. The scholarship was started by fellow UT alum Craig Johnson, who wanted to give back to Mathews for being such a great help to him. He also realized, after discovering that scholarships for other state and local schools were being awarded, that there wasn't one for the University of Texas at Austin.Johnson funds and solely decides who earns the scholarship after shuffling through quite a bit of paperwork. Applicants must submit a short essay and answer a series of questions; other criteria to be met are in regards to financial assistance. Also, applicants must already be accepted to the flagship university in Austin, not extension schools like UTPB (University of Texas Permian Basin) in Odessa. The recipient is honored at the scholarship awards ceremony held each May at Sweetwater High School, in which the funds will be included in his first tuition bill. However, as no applications were received last year, the scholarship has not been awarded since the program's inception in May 2010. In her search for information as she works on compiling a family history book, Lynda Fowler, a niece of Mathews, discovered that not much publicity on the scholarship had been given."I had tried to find an article in the Sweetwater Reporter about his generous gift," said Fowler, "but after two trips to Sweetwater and a great deal of assistance at the [County-City] Library, I discovered that there was no article other than a photo from May 2010."The photo was of four SHS graduating seniors who were awarded the Billy Roy Mathews Honorary Scholarship and each received $500: Zach Wetsel, Kendra Chowning, Morgan Gomez and Jake Lawrence. However, starting in May 2012, only one recipient will be chosen for the $2,000 scholarship.Mathews was born and raised in Sweetwater, graduating from Newman High School. He served for three and a half years with the Merchant Marines during World War II, and after being discharged, he acquainted himself with the furniture business through his father.Some time later, Mathews joined the Air Force for a four-year period. One of the years of service was spent in Korea. During that time, Mathews went "above and beyond the call of duty" and taught Korean teenagers six days a week about the United States, the country's customs and the English language.As a result of his informal teaching, Mathews' wife--the former Mary Beth Butler and her parents received thank you letters from the Korean students. However, Mathews lamented in his letters to his wife that while their desire to come to America was strong, few of the Korean students would ever make that dream a reality.Following his military service, Mathews began his college career at the University of Texas at Austin. During that time, he worked part time for then-Senator David Ratliff and studied law for one year. Mathews graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in three and a half years.After graduation, Mathews came back to Sweetwater to became a part of the Butler Abstract Company. The announcement was made in the newspaper by the owner of the company and Mathews' father-in-law, Jim Butler.Not only did Mathews work in Sweetwater, but he served in many community positions. In 1962 he was a City Commissioner and also served in the role as Mayor (1963-1964). Mathews was presented with a "Distinguished Service" proclamation following his term by newly elected mayor Dick Penick. Mathews also ran for the seat of state representative for his respective district. Mathews does not have any children, but Fowler stated that his close ties lie within Sweetwater, the people of the community and his family. As the first one in his family to graduate from college, Mathews has always supported and encouraged young people--especially his nieces and nephews--to earn a college degree."This seems like a very generous scholarship," said Fowler, "but perhaps some publicity will inspire someone to apply."