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Matthias a marvel at 96

The way Newton man Fred Matthias sees it, there are two groups of people in the world — those who keep moving and those who just sit around and watch television.

Consider Matthias part of the first group.

Despite being 96 years old, Matthias lives the very definition of an active lifestyle. The Newton attorney bikes or walks several hours a day. He continues to work at his law office several days a week. And he does all sorts of activities to keep his mind sharp, like playing piano, organ and trombone, doing crossword puzzles and following the news.

“My philosophy is to just keep going,” he said.

Those who know him marvel at his energy.

“He’s an amazing guy,” said Bruce Nuzum, who has worked with Matthias at the law office for about 40 years. “We had that nice weather a week or so ago, and he came in being happy because it was nice enough to ride his bicycle 14 miles two days in a row.”

Those 14-mile bike rides are not the least bit uncommon for Matthias. He and his riding partner, Park Centre resident Dot Logan, often ride together as long as the weather is decent.

“When I have the opportunity, I like to bike for a couple hours,” Matthias said. “The amount of distance I cover is a product of traffic and how far we go, the terrain and that kind of thing.”

When the weather is too rough, Matthias will walk — sometimes in Park Centre and Skiff Medical Center — or he’ll head downstairs to use the exercise equipment at Park Centre.

Matthias’ active lifestyle is just something he’s done his entire life. Growing up in Dubuque, he recalled biking up hills to get to and from school each day. In college at the University of Iowa, he walked everywhere, and that’s a habit he’s continued throughout his life. In Newton, he used to walk to work each day, home for lunch, back to work and back home again — at least eight miles total. Even to this day, he rarely drives anyplace in Newton when his two legs do just fine carrying him to Hy-Vee, his office or church.

“The only time I drive is when I’m going out of town,” he said.

Matthias has been walking and biking around Newton for 65 years now. He said “opportunity” brought him here in 1947. He finished law school in 1939 and began work in Chicago for Montgomery Ward until, as a reserve officer in the Army, he was called to active duty in 1941. He served his country for five years, beginning in Baltimore and ultimately ending up at the Pentagon.

“I learned when I was in college to use IBM machines, which were the antecedents of computers. And I did that same kind of activity in the military,” he said. “We got the top secret plans of war chiefs and learned where the various units were going to be. With the ability of the punch card operations, we were able to get out shipping information to the various supply depots to have the material at the places these units were going to be in the future.”

After he left the Army in 1946, he and his wife, Rosetta, decided to find a community in Iowa where they could settle down. They chose Newton and moved here in 1947. Matthias joined an established law firm doing “just about everything.” He recalled his first case defending a man who shot another man “in cold blood.”

“Back in those days they hanged people, and we saved him from hanging, but that was about all we could do for him in that kind of shape,” he said.

Fred and Rosetta had two daughters and two sons, all of whom now live outside of the area. Throughout their lives in Newton they remained active. Matthias recalled learning to cross country ski with his wife. They enjoyed a number of activities: tennis, golf, skiing, biking, sailing. Rosetta died in 2000, but that hasn’t slowed Matthias down.

So what are the secrets to long life? For Matthias, it’s no big mystery: Enjoy a little bit of genetic luck, eat well and, above all, stay active.

It helps to “get born in the right family,” as he notes. His family has a proclivity for long life. His oldest brother lived until he was 101. Another brother hit in his early 90s, and his parents lived into their 80s, well above average for the time they were born.

Eating properly helps, too.

“I had a mother and a wife who saw to it I ate properly,” he said. “The right kind, too, not just fast food.”

And as for staying active? Matthias couldn’t imagine stopping even as he approaches 100.

“When I see other people give in to aches and pains, I feel sorry, and I urge them to push against those pains,” he said. “I don’t think people should slack down because they’re 80 or 75. They should just keep going. And if they haven’t been going up to that time, it’s high time they start.”

Andy Karr can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 434 or via e-mail at

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