John H. Mathews

From plowing a mule to managing a multi-million dollar company, John Mathews experienced many facets of agriculture. Growing up on a 100-acre farm in Clay County, Mathews helped his family raise corn, cotton, hay, swine, cattle and chickens. However, his main job on the farm was driving the mules to haul firewood, cotton and corn.

As a senior in Lineville High in 1944, Mathews enlisted in the United States Navy. He was given an early diploma and shipped to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He served on a mine sweeper in the Pacific Ocean for two years and discharged when the Japanese surrendered to end World War II.

Under the G.I. Bill, Mathews enrolled at Jacksonville State University where he met and soon married Willodene Parker, the beautiful practice teacher of his trigonometry class. The two moved to Auburn where Mathews received a degree in vocational agriculture in 1948.

Mathews’s first job was as a vocational agriculture teacher at Ohatchee High School. After four years, however, he realized a teaching salary was not enough to support his family and took a job as the assistant secretary-treasurer of the Production Credit Association. He was named state field man for Production Credit Corporation and Federal Intermediate Credit Bank. Mathews became the assistant general manager of the Tennessee Valley Cooperative, now called the Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC), and in 1968 was promoted to general manager.

Mathews retired in 1990 after working with the Alabama Farmers Cooperative for 33 years. During his tenure AFC’s annual sales jumped from $3.9 million to $238 million, the number of stores increased from 12 to over 55, and AFC acquired Anderson’s Peanuts and Bonnie Plant Farm.

Mathews served two terms as president of the Alabama Council of Farmers Cooperatives. He was also named president of the National Cooperative (now Universal Cooperatives) in 1971. In addition, he was the director for the Farm Credit Board of Jackson, Jackson Bank for Cooperatives, Central Bank for Cooperatives, Farm Credit Bank of New Orleans, CoBank and the Mississippi Chemical Corporation.

Mathews enjoyed tinkering on the family farm that he had expanded to more than 1,100 acres from the original 80 acres he had bought in 1949 for $10 an acre. He had planted 900 of the acres in timber and rented the other 200 to a neighboring farmer.

John Mathews passed away on February 15, 1996. He is survived by his wife, Willodene, sons Ronnie and David, daughter Gail, and five granddaughters.