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Honoring Leon and Ann Matthews

Ann and Leon Mathews circa 1976
Ann and Leon Mathews circa 1976

Our school campus sits in sweet repose while new animal companions join Farmer Steve, Mr. Pugh, Scott, and Gilbert. In addition to our farm animals, the campus has become flush with geese, turkey, deer, coyotes, and other wild animal friends whose whereabouts are not as apparent. Given our heightened awareness of Earth-related topics, we may hear the trees whispering tales of dear teachers such as the faculty couple we recognize on this Sunday. The pioneering spirit that we must take up at this time increases our honor and respect for the heroic figures that came before us.

Ann and Leon Matthews live on with warmest regard and gratitude in the memories of Sacramento Waldorf School alumni, school parents, and faculty. Leon has been greatly missed since his passing in 2017, and Ann’s service to the school continues as she consults with SWS to provide mentoring and evaluation guidance as well as offering community-building support.

In 1976, the Matthews headed west to SWS from the oldest Waldorf school in North America, Rudolf Steiner School, New York. They were involved in the founding of the California Conservation Core. 1976 was also the founding year of Rudolf Steiner College. Many Sacramento area Waldorf sister schools were beginning during this time. The SWS High School first opened its doors two years earlier in 1974. Leon and Betty Staley promptly became collaborators on the high school program and became high school co-sponsors. In addition to working at SWS, Leon and Betty responded to the need of training Waldorf teachers and worked for many years as teachers-of-teachers at Rudolf Steiner College. Leon and Ann understood the importance of all the work that was taking place around them, they stepped into the center with fervor and imagination.

Leon was a renaissance man. He was an artist, a musician, and an athlete. With a background as a professional soccer player, his attention swiftly turned to imagining the potential for a physical education program. No buildings were allowed near the river, and what is now the SWS soccer field was a rugged landscape of brambles and thistles. In 1980, Leon moved beyond vision and pushed on removing thistles and twenty-five rattlesnakes, and grading this untamed corner of our campus with an old pickup truck pulling a metal box spring behind. High school students at that time, including Nicole Fields, sat on the box spring to strengthen its ability to grade the wild land into a level expanse that could now be used as an outdoor classroom. As the field was being prepared, Leon organized competitive relationships with the league of independent schools, coached soccer, and led the faculty in the development of the SWS Athletic Program.

Upon the Matthews’ 1976 arrival, our first Red Rose kindergarten teacher, Johanna Frouws, was on sabbatical. Ann took Johanna’s class that first year, before moving into the grades to take her class first through eighth. Ann was the first female teacher at SWS to accomplish this noble achievement. All that know Ann love her, aware of her sincere dedication to make the world a better place. While Leon was in the high school teaching block printing, copper beating, music, calligraphy, geography, and starting the athletic program, Ann was working tirelessly to bring her class through the grades and inspire a healthy social life in the lower school. Her understanding of the social aims of a Waldorf school brought artistic expression through the festival life of the school. The central role that the eighth grade class plays in our May Day is the creation of Ann Matthews.

As is true today, Ann recognized the eighth grade students in their early stages of initiation into adulthood, weaving the needs of our eldest lower school class into the festival life of the school. The seed of the eighth grade’s role in the May Day festival was that of a social element; the eighth grade students working together to provide a gift to the younger students. The grade one and two children are in the spring of their journey through the grades and look up to the eighth grade students.

In 1987, co-sponsors Leon Matthews and Betty Staley graduated a class from the high school while Ann Matthews graduated her class from eighth grade. Leon and Ann Matthews set high educational and community expectations for our school with their leadership and innumerable contributions. Thirty three years later, Sacramento Waldorf School is pioneering in the spirit of Leon and Ann. We take up their creativity, dedication, and adherence to Waldorf tenets out of honor for them and in service to the future decades in which SWS will continue to create a love of learning, a depth of understanding, and a strong sense of self.

Today join us in honoring the work of Leon and Ann Matthews. The gifts of Ann and Leon remain alive and well in our Sacramento Waldorf School community.

*Note: Ann continues to collaborate with the 2020-2021 Mentoring & Evaluation Committee, bringing her deep commitment and insights to our current faculty and staff. A blog outlining her extraordinary work in the area of mentoring and evaluation will be published for your enjoyment in mid-May.