Passionately serving others

Matthews gives a piece of her servant’s heart to Wingate

Carolyn Matthews comes by her first-to-volunteer nature honestly. “Both my parents had servants’ hearts,” she says. “And that’s kind of the way we were raised.”

Her parents’ example is a big reason Matthews became a middle- and high-school guidance counselor. After teaching for a few years, she moved into the counselors’ office, and providing guidance to students was among the most rewarding experiences of her life. Even after becoming an assistant principal, she missed counseling so much that she returned to it after a couple of years.

Matthews is a doer, and she felt like she could make more of an immediate difference as a guidance counselor.

“It was more than just a job; it was a passion,” she says. “I'm retired now, but the day I left I still loved it.”

Matthews felt especially drawn to the students with an underdeveloped support system: kids from poorer backgrounds and single-parent homes, or those who felt marginalized in some way. “I always told the kids, ‘I will advocate for you. You just tell me the truth, tell me what’s wrong, and we’ll figure it out,’” she says.

Matthews tears up a little as she recalls one boy who came to her professing suicidal thoughts. He was one of the brighter students at the school, and she understood that he put a lot of pressure on himself. At times he couldn’t live up to his own standards, and the pressure could take him to the brink.

Before connecting him with a medical professional, Matthews gave him some advice that took the edge off. Matthews ran into him recently, and he told her: “I remember you told me if I can get through this patch, things are going to be better. That’s what I held on to.” He told Matthews that she saved his life. (And that he’s studying to become a counselor.)

Matthews’ wise words and nurturing demeanor helped countless children in Forsyth County over the years. Few of those students were close to taking drastic, irreversible action, but they all needed help of one kind or another. And Matthews, it turned out, was the perfect person to provide it.

In retirement, Matthews has turned her attention to a group of students who are just a bit older but no less in need of her selfless attention. Matthews, a 1969 Wingate graduate, is a member of both the Board of Visitors and the Board of Trustees at the University, and, as a former educator, she brings a unique perspective to both. A 1969 Wingate graduate and a member of both the Board of Visitors and the Board of Trustees at the University, the former educator brings a unique perspective to both.

Looking outward

Matthews devotes her considerable volunteer time to several causes. At Wingate, she’s on the two boards and likes to pack potatoes or do whatever else needs doing during One Day, One Dog. Closer to her home in Winston-Salem, she serves as a senior advisor for the Crosby Scholars program, which helps students in Forsyth County prepare for college.

But College Park Baptist Church in Winston-Salem holds a special place in her heart. The Matthewses joined their church in 1980, when Carolyn’s husband, Rick, took a job as a physics professor at Wake Forest University. College Park turned out to be a good choice. Carolyn calls it a “connecting” church that provides ample opportunities to serve.

As her two children grew up, she was involved in different aspects of their church life, teaching Sunday school and chaperoning youth trips.

Now that she and Rick are empty-nesters, Matthews is in her “grandma phase.” She’s teaching children’s Sunday school again, in addition to being a deacon, serving on the finance committee and organizing Wednesday-night supper.

For about two decades, Carolyn and Rick, who has also served on Wingate’s Board of Trustees, would accompany a College Park group to rural Kentucky to build a three-bedroom house – in just one week. Except for putting in the footers and pouring the foundation, the group of about 100 church members did all the work: framing, plumbing, electrical work, drywall installation, even decorating each room and stocking the kitchen.

The crews would start work on Monday morning, and the house would be dedicated on Friday. A couple of times, the church group worked so hard they were done by Thursday.

“It was pretty intense,” Carolyn says. “I mean really, really intense.”

Rick got his electrical contractor’s license in Kentucky so he could lead the electrical team, and Carolyn organized the meal service in order to fuel the masses of workers. As exhausting as the project always was, Carolyn loved every minute of it: the sense of community, the intergenerational bonding, and especially the service to a family in need.

Providing opportunities to serve is a non-negotiable trait for a church, Carolyn says.

“I believe in worship, and I think that’s very important,” she says. “I mean that’s what we’re called to do: worship God. But I think we’re called to serve too. In the ministry, you have to look out, you know. Some churches just look in, take care of themselves. To me, we’ve got to look out.”

Personal touch

Matthews grew up in Peachland, N.C., about 10 miles from Wingate. Naturally, Wingate Junior College was a convenient, inexpensive option after she graduated from Anson High School. As for many back in the 1960s, it was a good start on Matthews’ higher-education career. After two years at Wingate, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at UNC-Greensboro and a master’s at UNC-Chapel Hill. She also took some courses at the University of Maryland, when she and Rick moved to the Washington, D.C., area for a couple of years.

Matthews never forgot the personal touch she experienced at Wingate.

“I tell people all the time that I feel like at none of those schools was the education any better than what I got at Wingate,” she says. “I couldn't tell you very many professors that I had at the other schools. I can think of two or three maybe, but the Wingate ones, I could probably tell you all my professors.”

While living in Chapel Hill, in Maryland and then finally in Winston-Salem, Matthews had only tenuous links with Wingate. But then her daughter, Kelly, began her college search in the early 2000s. Kelly initially dismissed her mother’s suggestion that she check out her alma mater, but Carolyn wore her down, and they came for a visit. All the student and parent visitors that day met for a program and then were separated for tours, students going one direction and parents the other.

“When we got back with our daughter, she was literally skipping,” Matthews says. “She was so excited. She just fell in love with it right then and there, and she said, ‘This is where I want to come.’”

Matthews fell in love with Wingate all over again too. She joined the Parents Council, her first step toward years-long stewardship roles at Wingate.

Matthews says she is still amazed that the level of personal attention she received at Wingate in the late ’60s persisted when her daughter was a Bulldog. When the family came down for Family Weekend during Kelly’s freshman year, academic departments set up booths out on the Quad so parents could meet the professors. “They knew Kelly – and of course, if you met her, you’d know why; she’s a talker,” Matthews says. “But my husband works at Wake Forest, and he said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how well these faculty members know their students.’”

Kelly (now Kelly Silliman) eventually switched her major from music to human services, but Matthews recalls Kelly getting a call from Ron Bostic, at the time the head of the Music Department, wondering why Kelly hadn’t signed up for one of his classes. “A professor looked at her schedule, knew she needed a class and called her up and talked to her,” Matthews says. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

An important perspective

Like many people of her generation, Matthews’ social-media world is dominated by Facebook. “I’m not very nimble on Twitter,” she says. “I have an Instagram account. I don’t really do it. I’ll look at it once in awhile. And I definitely haven’t done TikTok.”

So you won’t see Matthews pranking some poor soul or dancing for doughnuts anytime soon, but her Facebook friends do see the helpful information she provides, either on her own page or when she’s chiming in on someone else’s post. Amber Alerts, recipes, school closings – anything to be helpful.

“Sometimes I feel like Facebook’s controlled by the devil or the Russians or somebody, you know?” she says. “I mean, there’s a lot of very disappointing things that happen there. And sometimes I feel like just not dealing with it. But I try to be a positive person on there and share positivity. I don’t post very much from me. But I try to share things that I think are helpful and positive or maybe educational.”

It’s all part of the Matthews service package.

“What I hear from her every time we meet is that she genuinely wants to help people be informed,” says Becca Paylor, assistant vice president of advancement services at Wingate. “That’s her true ‘service’ to everyone she comes in contact with. She wants to make sure people have all the information they need to be successful and will work to help you to the best of her ability.”

That’s one thing she brings to the table during trustee meetings. Matthews likes to present a different perspective, simply to make sure that she and her fellow trustees consider all sides of an issue. And having been an educator, she can approach problems from an angle that only a handful of board members can.

“I feel like that brings a perspective that maybe surprises them sometimes,” she says, “because if you’ve been in the corporate world, you don’t have that perspective.”

Matthews comes at problems from a variety of angles.

“With her experience as an alumna, her work with the Board of Visitors, and the fact that her husband, Rick, is a professor at Wake Forest, Carolyn is uniquely qualified to understand firsthand the issues, opportunities and challenges we face at Wingate, perhaps more so than any other trustee,” says Bill Crowder, also an alumnus and a member of the Board of Trustees. “She uses that perspective to help the board engage in more thoughtful discussion and debate than without her there.”

Matthews is just glad to help, in any way she can.