Pasadena Community Foundation Funds

John Matthiessen Endowment

John Matthiessen with his wife Dorothy

Longtime Pasadena resident Marvel B. Kirby passed away in early 2021 at the age of 90. In her bequest to PCF, Marvel chose to honor six friends with close connections to Pasadena who shared her ethos of service and generosity. Each will have a named endowment established that will support causes important to them. John Matthiessen is one of the honorees.

Early Life

John Matthiessen arrived in Pasadena at the age of three following his parents’ cross-country move from New York; his father had plans to start a brokerage firm, but the Great Depression interrupted those plans not long after their arrival. John attended Polytechnic School in Pasadena and then the Hotchkiss School for Boys in Connecticut. He had a short stint in the Naval Air Corps and then attended Yale University. A short tour in the Marine Corps followed his university education.

Returning to Pasadena, John worked at a number of jobs in sales, escaping to Oceanside to surf and enjoy the beach as often as possible. Sports and the outdoors always captivated him. He was on the swim team at Hotchkiss and on the soccer and rugby teams at Yale. Surfing – body and board – became important parts of his life when his parents purchased a beach house in St. Malo Beach, Oceanside, in the 1940s.

He met his wife, Dorothy Hughes, in Pasadena while attending the social activities surrounding weddings of his contemporaries. They married in Pasadena in 1957. The couple went on to have four boys, all of whom were born at Huntington Hospital and grew up in Pasadena. Henry, one of the sons, remembers that his parents “ran a tight household and expected us to fully participate in chores. We grew up appreciating what it takes to run a home.”

A young Matthiessen family backpacking trip, c. 1972

Ready to Give Back

For two decades later in his life, John owned and operated Play Well, a company that crafted high-quality play structures for children. When John sold Play Well in the early 2000s, he found himself needing something to occupy his time. A friend invited him to visit the Boys & Girls Club Pasadena (BGCP), and John was hooked. “With my company, I worked for more than 20 years with affluent families. I was ready to give back to families who didn’t have those resources,” he remembered during an interview with PCF in 2021. He joined the Board of Directors and soon found himself the Board Chair. His tall stature helped earn him the nickname “Big John” at the organization.

“I was a hands-on board member,” John noted. “I knew the staff and tried to look after the spaces they worked in. I felt that how their work environment looked and functioned was important to how they did their job. I also felt the appearance of the campuses reflected how we valued the kids. I saw that they looked a little run-down and needed some help. I helped raise substantial funding for campus beautification and then became the de-facto gardener. I planted vegetable gardens for the kids and landscaped the property. I wanted the kids and their families to see something really nice when they arrived and donors, too.” As Board Chair for several years, John was instrumental in creating several of BGCP’s events, including the organization’s signature and very popular Black Tie and Burger event. He also raised funds to acquire a pitching machine for batting practice and vans to transport the kids.

John, at right, in a Boys & Girls Club campus garden with young students.

Legend Status at the Boys & Girls Club Pasadena

“Big John is a legend here at the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena!” enthused Lisa Cavalier, BGCP’s Chief Executive Officer, in 2021. ” After years of  involvement, he was “always happy to give input about the Clubhouses and grounds, ready to make a phone call to a donor, or give historical context to any number of situations that arise. We are so grateful to Big John and for the heart he continues to bring in service to the Club’s kids.”

John passed away in March of 2024 following more than 90 years of residency in Pasadena.  His endowment will ensure that organizations like Boys & Girls Club will continue to flourish for years to come.

Staff members from the Boys & Girls Club Pasadena surprised “Big John” on his 95th birthday in 2021.

The Power of Endowment
Endowments are the cornerstone of PCF’s mission to build hometown legacies. The corpus of each endowed fund is invested with PCF’s portfolio for long-term growth. Each year, the endowments generate the funds that support PCF’s local grantmaking, which enriches the arts community, protects our environment, provides health care and critical social services, and bolsters public education in Pasadena. Endowments are permanent legacies for our community; these funds will continue to grow and provide philanthropic support forever. Become a PCF Endowment Builder. 

Established March 2022

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