Rooted in Campbell
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“My mother tells me that the Neil Archie Matthews family was the most loving, caring people she has ever known. All 12 children had brilliant minds; all the men were tall and handsome; all the ladies tall and beautiful …”
— William Brooks Matthews, cousin of Christopher Stewart, great-grandson of Neil Matthews
Generations of Matthews
Between 1892 and 1914, Annie Jane Stewart Matthews and Neil Archie Matthews had 13 children (the second-to-last child, Ruth, died at birth in 1913).
The couple saw four of their boys march off to war — three in World War I and one in World War II — and one son, Kenneth Clifford, would be listed as “missing in action” before returning home, though for years would suffer the effects of mustard gas and shell shock.
They would go on to become nurses, deputies, barbers, teachers, business owners, homemakers, doctors, authors, and like their father, farmers.
“They were absolutely wonderful people,” Stewart said. “Real-life characters … salt of the earth.”
Of the 12, nearly all of them contributed to the growth of that school in Buies Creek, whether as students, employees or supporters.
Where is Tara?
Having grown up in the Phillipines and having my views of the American South shaped by movies such as “Gone with the Wind,” I was quite surprised when President Leslie Campbell, who met me at a bus station in Raleigh, brought me to Buies Creek in 1955.
I saw almost nothing but tobacco barns and small houses — there were no Taras anywhere..
— Leonore Doromal Tuck,
from Campbell archives
The Last of the Big Four
Shortly following the funeral of Fred McCall, I was crossing the campus with a colleague, and casually mentioned that “the last of the big four had just passed away”.
He asked, “Who were the big four?”
I replied, “Dr. Leslie Campbell, Dean A.R. Burkot, Lonnie Small and Fred McCall.”
It should be known that Fred McCall is a Hall of Fame basketball coach. His close associates knew him as “Juice,” but I always called him “coach.”
It is not well known that Fred and Bones McKinney founded the very first basketball school in the country right here in the cracker box known as Carter Gymnasium.
The Campbell basketball school brought to this obscure little campus such names as John Wooden, Dolph Shayes, Press Maravich, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Dean Smith, Michael Jordan ... just to mention a very few of the greatest names in basketball .
— Dr. James M. Jung
There was Milton, the fourth child, who followed in Neil’s footsteps as a farmer and took over his father’s operation at the “Big House” in 1939 before eventually selling to Campbell University. That 200-acre farm would later become Keith Hills, home to a beautiful community, country club, golf course and soon, North Carolina’s first new medical school in 35 years.
Palmer, the seventh, fought in World War I and returned for a career of farming and selling vacuum cleaners. He entered Campbell lore, however, close to his retirement when he started Pop’s Grill, which catered to college students and Campbell faculty and staff.
“It became a student hangout,” Stewart said. “And ‘Pop’ was quite a character … I remember him really well.”
A vocal Campbell supporter, ‘Pop’ would regularly attend baseball games and bang on metal trash cans when the other team was up to bat, according to Stewart.
“The person who told me this said it was so loud, you could hardly bear it,” he said. “The Campbell players loved it, of course, and it rattled the other team terribly.”
Gretchen, No. 8, went by the name “Dutch,” and for years, he served as director of the Physical Plant at Campbell. He later built and operated a country store and service station by his home, another business frequented by Campbell students and faculty. He, too, was a big supporter of the local school, Stewart said.
“When the late professor Dr. A.R. Burkot (of whom Burkot Hall is named) first moved to Buies Creek, he couldn’t borrow enough money to buy a house and settle here,” Stewart said. “Uncle Dutch loaned him the money to buy a house, and Burkot would say many times that Dutch was one of the reasons he was able to come to Campbell. He was forever grateful.”
Ora excelled as a student at Buies Creek Academy and went on to become a nurse. She married a doctor and the two started a practice out west in Canton, N.C. Margaret was a teacher and eventually the cafeteria manager at Angier High School for many years.
The youngest of the 12 — and perhaps the most successful — was Hugh Archie Matthews, the author, Distinguished Alumnus, artist and physician.
Hugh studied at Campbell, Wake Forest, Duke, Yale, UNC, Johns Hopkins and Iowa State, earning a degree in biology, a master’s in English and an M.D.
In his 30s, he volunteered for service during World War II and was wounded while working as a physician in a field hospital in Italy.
He would go on to start a practice in Canton, where a few of his siblings lived, and became an adjunct professor at West Carolina University. He served on the Governor’s Commissions on Cancer and was a member of Campbell’s Board of Trustees and the General Board of the Baptist State Convention. He was also founder and president of the North Carolina Health and Safety Council.
The Matthews children had 29 children of their own combined, five of whom fought in World War II. And many of them — including Stewart’s father, attended Campbell College. Stewart said he has so many cousins in and around the area, he probably hasn’t met them all.
“My great-grandmother, until the day she died, sat with one leg out, because her entire life, she always had a kid or a grandkid sitting on her lap,” Stewart said.
“There are certainly a lot of us.”