Janie Mattern has spent a lifetime being a hero

March 6, 2024

All Posts

By Drex Treaster, Director of Memory Lane 

When I think of everyday heroes, I think of a woman who has embodied heroism all of her life — and changed the lives of people around the world. I first got to know Janie Mattern when I had an opening on Memory Lane at Valley View Retirement Community. As the coordinator for Memory Lane, it is my practice to visit each prospective resident, so I drove to Bellefonte to visit Janie and her husband Rex.  

While interviewing and spending time with Janie, she brought out a two-foot-tall stack of papers that she had kept from all of the service projects that she’d been involved with – some local, some overseas, some short-term, and some still going on to this day. Janie talked fondly of the people she and her husband had served and the impact that serving had on her.  

Later, I talked to Rex, and he gave his wife credit for that two-foot-high stack of sacrifice and service to others. He went on to say that one of the reasons for looking for placement at Valley View was because they had lived in Mifflin County most of their lives, specifically in Burnham.  

Since I grew up in Burnham, Rex and I soon discovered that we had friends in common (in fact, I used to walk past Janie and Rex’s house on my way to Burnham Elementary!). One name stood out in particular: a young man who was a member of the youth program where they served. The young man’s family was struggling to the point that protective services needed to intervene to find placement for the kids. Without hesitation, Rex and Janie opened their home to this young man in his time of need. Today, this young man is a respected member of the community, and he talks fondly about the older couple who helped him in his youth and pointed him in a good direction.  

I left their home that day in amazement. I know people like the Matterns exist, it is just that they are rare, too rare, that it is surprising when you meet them. 

That first meeting was several years ago. Today, Janie lives on Memory Lane, and I have had a front-row seat to hear about her everyday heroism over the years. Once, a young family from Venezuela came to visit her. They told me that Janie and Rex supported them when they were new to America. Another time, Rex donated a Christmas tree to Memory Lane and enlisted a young man to help him carry the box. As it turned out, the man is a professional baseball player with the Atlanta Braves. Early in this man’s career, he played for the Spikes, and the Matterns had helped him while he lived in Central PA. I remember walking away from that interaction giggling about the fact that a professional baseball player was lugging heavy boxes around on Memory Lane. These are just two of the many stories I have of Janie, a small glimpse of a lifetime of serving others and being a true hero. 

Beyond those stories, the best evidence I have of Janie’s heroism is watching her go about her day here on Memory Lane. Her servant’s heart is such a powerful force in her. I watch her care for her other residents; even the team on Memory Lane is a beneficiary of her love. She is so quick at identifying emotional or physical needs in others, and if she sees a need, she does not wait for someone else to fill it.  

We often hear that true beauty comes from within and that it is better to give than receive, but it is quite another thing to see it put into practice every day. I wish I had met the Matterns earlier in my life so I could have truly known that it really is better to give than to receive. 

One final quick thought; when Rex told me that Janie was solely responsible for all the good they had done, my gut told me that he was too modest. I still believe he is being humble, but now I know that there is a bit of truth in what he said. Janie is Batman, and Rex is her Robin. And there is no question that both are heroes. 


This article was contributed by Drex Treaster for the “Everyday Heroes” issue of the Juniata Valley Magazine published by Lewistown Sentinel.