Some people dream of the future but are unable to shape reality. A few, like Walter and Marguerite Matheny, actually turn their dream into a reality and leave a legacy that forever changes the landscape of life.
The Mathenys’ idea, and their tenacious spirit in making it a reality, was born out of necessity. Their son, Chuck, was born with cerebral palsy. They saw a world that could not respond to children with special needs. Their passion for their son’s welfare and their concern for the many other children with cerebral palsy was the beginning of a wonderful story that started in 1946. Although there were only three students and an operating budget of $3,000 obtained through a GI loan, the Matheny School was the first step in a major commitment to provide assistance to young people with physical disabilities and their families.
During those early years, the programs focused on special physical education, academics, speech therapy and recreation. As word spread, enrollment increased, along with the need for more staff and additional space. It was time for a new building, and on March 14, 1954, there was a groundbreaking on the hillside in Peapack, NJ, where the Matheny Medical and Educational Center still stands today.
The Mathenys continued their outstanding efforts in meeting the needs of these special children and, as a result, in the 1970s, Matheny received approval as a special hospital from the New Jersey State Department of Health. During the next decade, the number of residential students nearly doubled, and services were greatly expanded.
The Matheny of today is a sophisticated medical and educational facility serving many infants, children and adults with complex medical conditions and developmental disabilities from across New Jersey and the country. It is a far cry from the original school. It is not, however, far from the philosophy that Walter and Marguerite Matheny wove into the fabric of the organization. The Mathenys’ gift was their compassion for people with special needs. That compassion is still at the very heart and soul of how care is provided today. Matheny has retained a warm and sensitive approach to the needs of the people it cares for. Doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists and all staff think of each child or adult as a person, not as a patient. They respect each person’s dignity and work tirelessly to enable each to enjoy the highest quality of life.