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Historical items

Two file cabinets in the basement of Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown hold the letters Tom Matchie's mother sent him every day for nine years. The letters, along with a collection of books, photographs and other papers, have been donated to the...

Joe Rector, James River Valley Library System director, stands with some of the items donated by Tom and Michelle Matchie of Fargo. Tom Matchie is a Jamestown, N.D., native. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service
Joe Rector, library system director, stands with some of the items donated by Tom and Michelle Matchie of Fargo. Tom is a native of Jamestown. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Two file cabinets in the basement of Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown hold the letters Tom Matchie’s mother sent him every day for nine years. The letters, along with a collection of books, photographs and other papers, have been donated to the James River Valley Library System by Tom and Michelle Matchie, said Joe Rector, library system director.

The collection of letters and papers shows the history of the Matchie family in Jamestown, but also the history of Jamestown around the 1950s, Rector said.

“We’re delighted to have the collection,” Rector said.

Michelle first approached Rector about the collection in 2012. She said her husband had a big collection of books, but wasn’t sure what to do with them. Tom Matchie had a collection of Native American literature, books by regional authors, materials he used while teaching and books that include his writings.

Rector said he looked at the collection at the house in Jamestown where Tom Matchie had grown up and saw he had more than just books, but had papers, letters and photos that could be part of the collection.

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“Those are irreplaceable,” Rector said. “Those things get completely lost if we don’t save them.”

The Matchies thought about it and decided to donate books and papers, including a large letter collection, pictures, newspaper clippings, cards and Tom’s writings. Matchie also wrote a small autobiography to go with the collection, Rector said.  

“It’s a unique opportunity to be a part of preserving something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve,” Rector said. “Even though we’re not an archive, we still want to contribute to preserving history in the area.”

Although the Matchies split their time between Fargo, Rogers, Minn., and Detroit Lakes, Minn., the family has a history in Jamestown.

Matchie’s family owned a farm in Spiritwood until his parents moved to Jamestown after several crop failures in the 1930s, he said. His mother sold her diamond ring to start Central Dakota Commercial College in Jamestown and his father worked at the post office, Matchie said.

Matchie said he and his siblings attended St. John’s Academy in Jamestown. After Matchie left for college at St. John’s University in Minnesota, his mother sent him a letter every day for nine years.

The letters are full of not only the family’s news, but also Jamestown’s, Matchie said. Some of the envelopes hold more than letters, and include pictures, newspaper clippings and letters from other family members.

“Each is a little time capsule,” Rector said.

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Matchie became a priest after graduating from college, and went on to get master’s and doctorate degrees in English. He taught English at Shanley High School in Fargo, but left the school and priesthood when he got married in the early 1970s.

Cards from family and community members congratulating Matchie on being ordained as a priest are part of the other papers he donated to the library. Rector said the library has many visitors who are working on genealogy, so being able to see a card signed by a relative is amazing, especially since most of those people are gone now.

Matchie went on to teach at North Dakota State University for 33 years, focusing on Native American and Midwestern literature.

Matchie said he also helped organize the legislative district around NDSU and was a House representative and later a senator for 10 years from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. About his time as a priest, teacher and politician, Matchie said he “just likes to do different things.”

“It’s such an interesting life, and I think this collection is a neat window into who Tom is and the city that helped make Tom who he is,” Rector said.

Rector said he is uploading the material from the donation to Digital Horizons, an online collection of historical content related to North Dakota and Minnesota. The library also has a page on its website with some of Matchie’s unpublished writings.

Matchie makes regular financial donations to the library, and Rector said he appreciates the financial support. Rector said the Matchies don’t want to disclose the amounts of the donations.

Matchie said he was very happy to donate the collection.

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“I think it’s unbelievable that Joe discovered what I had and what was possible with it,” Matchie said.

Related Topics: JAMESTOWN
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