Tim Pugliese recalls meeting Joe Mathews when their children were students at Armstrong Elementary. They had volunteered to help prepare for the school’s annual carnival.
“A large group of the dads would show up to help set up,” Pugliese said. “I was the guy who couldn’t use a hammer. He was the guy who could. … I immediately recognized him as someone I’d like to know better.”
Mathews’ ability to use a hammer translated well to one of his many passions — volunteering with Carpenters for Christ, a Highland Park United Methodist Church outreach program that works with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Dallas and abroad.
Mathews died of a heart attack at age 53 last March. But his life continues to inspire. Carpenters for Christ’s new project — which began last week — is known as “The House That Joe Built,” and Mathews’ close friends will be among those who will build the home in West Dallas.
“It’s a way for all of us who knew him well to try to reconcile and give some additional meaning to his passing,” Pugliese said.
A lawyer, husband, friend, and father, Joseph Clarke Mathews lived a life committed to improving the community. He was involved in volunteer endeavors to help others, and he used his talents not only to build his career but also to help those outside of his family and circle of friends as well as beyond the parameters of his neighborhood.
“He was passionate about maintaining friendships,” Pugliese said. “He always put others first. Always.”
With Carpenters for Christ, Mathews had a hand in most of the houses the church built in Dallas.
“He was one of the leaders of our framing team,” said Joe B. Fortson, an outreach associate at the church. “He liked to work the first two days, because that’s when they were really putting in the houses and critical things were done. … When one of the house supervisors would see that Joe was heading up a team, they would never check his work.”
His family, friends, and colleagues are working to keep building where Mathews left off.
“Joe died on a Monday, and his services were on Thursday,” Fortson said. “Very good friends of his, very close family friends, walked in that next Monday morning with a check for $55,000.”
The donation — given by Susan, Jim, and Natalie Brickman of Highland Park — provided the funding for “The House That Joe Built.” The work began last Saturday, despite the scorching temperatures. Builds usually begin in cooler months, but because Mathews’ children — Hunter and Madison — wanted to participate, it was decided to begin the build before they returned to college.
Alexandre Nihobantegeye, who will live in the house with his family, refugees from the genocide in Rwanda, was also part of the team.
“Alexandre was there working hard,” Pugliese said. “He wanted a part of himself in the house. That’s just so Joe-like.”
Volunteers felt Saturday’s efforts were a good start.
“Everything was well done and thought out,” said Jane Parker, a volunteer coordinator for the church. “We felt [Joe’s] presence with us, that’s for sure.”
Volunteers will continue to work on the house through October. Pugliese is one of many friends who plans to be there on multiple Saturdays.
“We were given a passing that we didn’t want, and so what are we going to do with that?” Pugliese asked. “What would Joe do? He would do something constructive with it, and that’s what we’re doing. We are trying to give back to him. … We’re taking this devastating loss and trying to do something positive with it for somebody else.”
Editor’s note: This story was written by Anaka Johnston, a Dallas freelance writer. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.