Galesburg— Mary Katherine Matson, 83, of Galesburg, died on October 5, 2022, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
She was born on June 2, 1939, in Galesburg, daughter of the late Charles and Bernice Myers. Mary graduated from Galesburg High School in 1957. She married Charles W. Smith in 1961 and lived in Chicago where her daughter, Rachel, was born. She later divorced and returned to Galesburg, opening the Calico Cat Boutique in 1968. In 1970 she married Jay Matson and they began a joint entrepreneurial career. Mary is credited as the creative force behind the Calico Cat, Old Affairs Antiques, Lullaby Dad’s Thirst Parlor, Landmark Café & Creperie, Packinghouse Dining Company, Jumping Bean Restaurant, Uncle Billy’s Bakery, Kensington Restaurant & Ballroom, and Macomb Dining Company. She was an early advocate for tourism as an unheralded economic development ingredient and donated the land to house the Galesburg Railroad Museum’s Pullman Car at its founding. She partnered in fostering the redevelopment and restoration of Seminary Street as a historic commercial district in downtown Galesburg. She received statewide honors with a President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement by Landmarks Illinois, acknowledging her revitalization work in preserving historic properties and advancing downtown economic development with independently owned businesses.
Throughout her life Mary was challenged with numerous health issues which she faced with an indomitable spirit and resolve. She endured dozens of surgeries and cancer treatments and rallied repeatedly against the odds. In 1970, at age 31, Mary suffered kidney failure and received one of the country’s earliest transplant operations from an NIH grant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Through diligent care, she maintained the kidney for over 50 years and entered the record books as the world’s longest surviving kidney transplant from a non-related deceased donor. She lived her last two and a half years on dialysis at home with her beloved cats. In her final months she expressed deep appreciation for the loving care provided to her by her daughter, Rachel, her niece, Paige Singh, and her long-term aide and friend, Bonnie Smith, as well as her other compassionate caregivers.
Mary was an avid reader, a skilled Scrabble player, a cat fancier, a talented artist, and a take-no-prisoners cartoonist. She was knowledgeable about classic movies, art and music. She applied her considerable artistic talents to several fields, including drawing, interior design and gardening. Her holiday window displays at the Calico Cat were legendary. She was known for creating beautiful displays of potted plants and flowers on Seminary Street, and in the Landmark Café garden, as well as her own backyard. Mary had wide-ranging interests, from enjoying lunch in nearby small towns to travels in Europe, from noir films to champagne toasts. She had strong opinions and did not suffer fools gladly. You always knew where you stood with Mary. She was fiercely honest and politically engaged. Even in her final days she would proclaim “War criminal!” at every TV image of Putin. She will also be remembered by friends for her irreverent sense of humor. Those close to her were inspired by her courageous will to live, to rebound and overcome one adversity after another without ever voicing complaint. Mary had great love for her family and friends, but almost as much affection for her beloved cats: Biggy, Cali, Baby One, and Baby Too.
She is survived by her daughter, Rachel (Alan) Haynes of Altona. Mary was preceded in death by her parents, sisters Constance Myers and Janet (Mark) Benassi, and brother David Myers. She is also survived by brothers Charles (Florence) Myers of Rockford, IL, and William (Bonnie) Myers of Thayer, MO; and sisters Joan (Prem) Singh of Alexandria, VA, and Susan (Steve) Crawford of Denver, CO; numerous nieces and nephews, and her dear friend and ex-husband Jay Matson.
Cremation rites have been accorded. A celebration of life will take place at a later date. Hurd-Hendricks Funeral Homes and Crematory are assisting the family with arrangements. Memorials may be donated to Northwest Memorial at nmgive.donordrive.com/event/marymatson , Planned Parenthood at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planed-parenthood-illinois/get-involved-locally/donate; and the Knox County Humane Society in memory of Mary Matson at https://knoxcountyhumanesociety.org/ . Expressions of sympathy made at www.hurd-hendricksfuneralhome.com