NEWARK — The day Jim Matheny planned for all year, every year, turned out to be his last.
Matheny, 77, president of the Newark Rodders Car Club, died in the early morning hours Saturday, the day of the 36th annual Lite The Nite Car Show in downtown Newark.
Car show registrations are used to pay some of the costs of the annual Christmas lighting of the Licking County Courthouse the day after Thanksgiving.
The car show went on without him, with about 400 cars parked around the Courthouse Square. The event provides a donation of about $3,500 toward the Courthouse lighting each year.
‘Definitely there in spirit’ at downtown Newark car show
“He was definitely there in spirit,” his son James Matheny said. “It was everything to him. It’s a one-day show, but he worked all year for it. This was his gift. He helped the community and sacrificed many hours and days for the community.”
The reward for the hours of work on the car show came at the Courthouse lighting, his son said.
“The day after Thanksgiving when the whole community comes together all the kids light up in anticipation — he liked to see the sparkle in people’s eyes,” James Matheny said.
Matheny, an Air Force veteran, worked at Rockwell for 31 years. He worked as a custodian with Newark City Schools after he retired from Rockwell. He also worked for the Super Chevy Show.
Barb Wilson, vice president of the Newark Rodders, said although Matheny was ill and hospitalized, she communicated with him in the days and weeks prior to the show.
“I’d text him every day and ask him if there’s anything else that needed to be done,” Wilson said. “Luckily, we’d all helped him so much in the past, most of it we knew what to do. Until the last couple days before the show, I’d get a thumbs up or a heart.”
Wilson said it was quite a tribute to Matheny that his family showed up to help at the car show.
“They’ve always been a huge part of the show,” Wilson said. “I was surprised. I knew it was going to be a hard day for them. This was his baby and he’d wanted them to carry on.”
Jim Matheny’s death leaves void at car show, friends say
Spencer Barker, a city councilman who is following in his late father’s footsteps as president of the Licking County Courthouse Lighting Committee board, said the car show will go on, but it won’t be the same without Matheny.
“The car show will continue, but there will always be a void because Jim was such a great guy,” Barker said. “Jim was at every Courthouse lighting I can remember presenting a check to my dad, (Licking County Commissioner) Tim Bubb and me. He was somebody we could rely on and take care of the car show. “We’ll remember Jim Matheny at the Courthouse lighting.”
The Courthouse Lighting Committee owns the name “Lite The Nite” and contracts with a car club every year to put on the car show as a fundraiser for the Christmas lighting. The Newark Rodders has sponsored the show for more than 20 years.
Wilson said, “The club would very much like to carry on Lite The Nite in his memory, barring any complication, and as long as the city and county are willing to do it.”
Bubb said he hopes the committee does something in Matheny’s memory.
“Jim was clearly the organizer, sort of the go-to guy,” Bubb said. “It probably broke his heart he couldn’t be involved this year. The fact they did it without Jim, that’s a credit to them.
“My hope would be the club would want to stay with it. I’d certainly hope they’d continue it. It’s a great downtown event and also draws attention to the Courthouse and the Square and the lighting.”
James Matheny said his father tried to lift the spirits of the nurses at Licking Memorial Hospital up until just hours before his death.
“He was still fist-bumping nurses,” James Matheny said. “He was encouraging them, and they’re healthy. He’s always been positive, uplifting and helping others.”
Vensil and Chute Funeral Home in Newark is in charge of funeral arrangements.