“The blossom cannot tell what becomes of its aroma,” said the 19th-century minister Henry Ward Beecher, “and no man can tell what becomes of his influence.”
This wise observation may be particularly true for the best educators, whose influence can potentially change the lives of their students many decades into the future. Such a teacher was Anthony (“Tony”) J. Matula, 78, a former longtime Glenside resident who died unexpectedly Aug. 9 at his home in Normandy Farms. Tony was a math teacher and coach at Cedarbrook Middle School in Cheltenham for 32 years and Wyncote Academy for 15 years, and his legacy extends far beyond teaching.
According to Tony's wife of 56 years, Carol (Scheese), “There are hundreds of comments on Facebook about Tony because he was such a special person. He was not the least bit pretentious. He treated everybody the same, and he would go out of his way to help anyone in need. And he was a devoted family man.”
Tony coached his son, Marc, in middle school soccer and never missed a band performance, choral event or soccer game, Carol said.
“Fishing was his number one activity,” she said. “For 30 years he and Marc fished together. Every single year, Marc would take him fishing for a birthday present and a Father's Day present.”
Janet Gilmore, a longtime volunteer with Stagecrafters Theater in Chestnut Hill whose husband, Hugh, wrote the “Enemies of Reading” column in the Local for many years, told us that she taught with him throughout her 30-year career at Cedarbrook Middle School, and knew him to be a “wonderful” man.
“He was one of several young teachers hired around 1968 when several older teachers retired,” she said. “We all went through the Vietnam War,” she said. “I remember the male teachers wearing long hair and facial hair, allowing the students to chew gum, or not, and going outside during snow to play on the hill outside the teachers’ lunchroom.”
She, too, remembers Tony's love of fishing.
“Tony used to take off from school every year on the first day of fishing in the Wissahickon Creek,” she said. “And I remember that Tony was thrilled to have met Pope John Paul II.”
Born in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, Tony was the son of the late Martin and Josephine (Bigus) Matula.
He graduated from Coaldale High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Millersville University, then a master’s in secondary education in Mathematics from Temple University. He also coached both the middle school soccer team and track and field team. He was truly passionate about teaching.
Tony was also a devoted fan of all Philadelphia sports teams. He enjoyed singing in the church choir at St. Luke’s, St. Helena’s and the Normandy Farms choir.
“I can go on and on about my adventures with Tony and tell you what he meant to me and so many others,” said Kirk Hittinger, former principal of Wyncote Academy. “I could tell you about the many fishing trips Tony took with our kids and the hours he spent patiently untangling fishing lines for kids who had never experienced fishing before. He frequently shared his gear with kids who didn't have their own.”
Then there were the lavish Christmas parties hosted by Tony and Carol.
“They even invited my own parents to attend. I was grateful, and my parents felt incredibly honored,” Hittinger said. “Mom and Pop had a wonderful evening. They drove all the way from Bethlehem to Glenside. Carol and Mom hit it off instantly; they were kindred spirits and even shared the same name.”
In an online tribute, Tom McHugh wrote, “Mr. Matula was my favorite math teacher of all my years of education, kindergarten through Penn State. His enthusiasm for teaching math readily transferred to all of his students. We will never forget him.”
Tom Triolo wrote, “I worked with Tony at Cedarbrook. He was a great mentor and friend. We had the best math department, and a lot of that was due to Tony.”
In addition to his wife, Tony is survived by his children, Lisa (Matula) Fetzer and Marc; his grandchildren, Ryan Anthony, Morgan Fetzer and Logan Matula; his brother, Martin; two nieces; one nephew and a wide network of extended family, friends and former students.
Relatives and friends greeted the family on Aug. 16 before the Funeral Mass at St. Helena Church in Blue Bell. The internment was private. Donations may be made to actsgiving.com with the designation “for Normandy Farm Estates Samaritan Fund.”
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org