By David Martin
Publisher 

Commissioner dies Thursday

 


Don Van Matre, a long-serving Sweetwater County Commissioner and former mayor of Green River, died early Thursday morning at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. He was 76.

Flags were flown at half-mast Monday in both Sweetwater County and the state offices in Cheyenne from sunrise to sunset in Van Matre’s honor.

Van Matre grew up in the Farson-Eden area before joining the U.S. Army. He served as an aviator during the Vietnam War, earning a Bronze Star. He would later command an air base in Panama and was a professor of military science at the University of Wisconsin before returning to Sweetwater County.

According to an Echos from the Bluffs article about Green River’s mayors, Van Matre served as Green River’s mayor for one term, from 1987-1990. During his time as mayor, Green River faced funding decreases, leading him to adopt a motto of “doing as much with less.” The city continued its streets reconstruction work and the beautification of Flaming Gorge Way. The city also annexed FMC Park during his tenure and took over operation of the water distribution system. Van Matre also volunteered on several boards, which is how Commissioner Wally Johnson first started working with him prior to their roles as county commissioners. Johnson said they served together on the Joint Powers Water Board, calling Van Matre a disciplined


“He was always agreeable when we had a disagreement,” Johnson said.

Van Matre was appointed as director of the county’s Veterans Service Office, an organization originally established by the Sweetwater County Commissioners and operates through a memorandum of understanding between Sweetwater, Sublette and Lincoln Counties. According to Garry McLean, Human Resources Director for Sweetwater County, the success the program has today is due to Van Matre’s work and ability to talk with veterans.

“He was the engine that made it work,” McLean said. “He’s what made it run.”

McLean said Van Matre was the perfect candidate for the VSO, saying he could not have found a better fit for the job. Van Matre was appointed by the county commissioners in 2008 to head up a program that at the time was funded better than the state’s veteran service office. McLean said veterans were upset with problems and delays experienced in both the state office and the federal Veterans Administration programs.

He said Van Matre’s background and temperament helped him gain trust with veterans and the many veterans’ organizations in the area. When the county established its VSO, it was to provide services veterans weren’t receiving elsewhere. The county program has offices in Kemmerer, Green River and Pinedale and has since become the model the state has followed in revamping its veteran services. Through Van Matre’s leadership, the county program offers help to any veteran, not just those living in the three-county area.


“He did an outstanding job for those veterans,” Johnson said.

Van Matre was appointed by Commissioners Randy Walker and Debby Dellai-Boese to fill the remainder of Commissioner Paula Wonnacott’s term during the last meeting the commissioners had in 2010, before a new, five-member board would take office. While controversy would arise from Van Matre’s sudden appointment, Van Matre’s qualifications for the role were never questioned.

“I don’t for one minute think Don Van Matre was a bad choice,” former Commissioner Gary Bailiff told the Star after Van Matre was appointed in 2010. While serving as a commissioner, the county faced decreased funding similar to what he dealt with as Green River’s mayor. He also served as the liaison to both the museum board and the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport board, among others.

“The museum board was fortunate to have Don as its liaison to the Board of County Commissioners,” Sweetwater County Historical Museum Director Brie Blasi said. “He was dedicated to Green River and Sweetwater County, which was demonstrated by his many years of public service.”


Devon Brubaker, director of the airport, said the board and staff watched first hand how dedicated Van Matre was to his role, traveling with them across the state to help secure funding for the General Aviation Facility. He served as a staunch supporter for the airport.

“Don Van Matre was a true American hero right in our backyard,” Brubaker said. “Don’s dedication to the airport will be remembered for years to come.”

 

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