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Left to right, Northwest student Haley Larson, Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski, Northwest President Emeritus Dr. B.D. Owens, Glenna Mathes and Holly Wilmes survey a firefighter's helmet returned to the Mathes family on Friday. The helmet had been worn by Dale Mathes as he fought the 1979 Administration Building fire. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Left to right, Northwest student Haley Larson, Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski, Northwest President Emeritus Dr. B.D. Owens, Glenna Mathes and Holly Wilmes survey a firefighter's helmet returned to the Mathes family on Friday. The helmet had been worn by Dale Mathes as he fought the 1979 Administration Building fire. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Sept. 29, 2019

Northwest returns firefighter’s helmet to original owners


Northwest Missouri State University on Friday returned a piece of local history, which had gone missing, to its original owners.

This story centers on the fire helmet Dale Mathes wore on the night of July 24, 1979, when he fought the fire that devastated the campus’ Administration Building. Mathes presented the helmet to Northwest’s then-president, Dr. Dean Hubbard, and President Emeritus Dr. B.D. Owens during an observance of the 10-year anniversary of the fire in 1989.

At one time, the helmet was displayed inside the University president’s office, but it was moved when the office was remodeled earlier this decade. A few years ago, the Mathes family approached the University about reclaiming the helmet, setting off a search to determine its whereabouts, which remained a mystery. 

In July, Northwest commemorated the 40th anniversary of the fire and the topic of the missing helmet reemerged. Haley Larson, an office assistant in the president’s office, solved the dilemma as she was cleaning a closet in the office.

“All of sudden, there was a fire helmet in there, and I’m like, ‘Why is there a fire helmet?’” Larson, a senior marketing and international business major from Des Moines, Iowa, said. Then, she recalled the Mathes family visiting the president’s office to inquire about the helmet a few days earlier. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I found the fire helmet.’ I was so excited.”

On Friday, with Owens back on the Northwest campus for Family Weekend activities, he and Northwest’s current president, Dr. John Jasinski, presented the helmet to members of the Mathes family – Dale’s widow, Glenna; daughter, Holly Wilmes; son, Calvin Mathes; and grandson, Heath Wilmes – during a private ceremony.

Dale Mathes, who died in 2017, was a volunteer firefighter in Maryville for 15 years before his election to the Maryville City Council, on which he served for 12 years, including three terms as mayor.

“His service to this community is significant,” Jasinski said while presenting a certificate of authenticity to the family to accompany the helmet. “When you think about 60 percent of the Administration Building being burned, it was the heroic nature of Dale and so many others that really saved the day for this University. Today, we stand on the shoulders of the Dales of the world.”

The red, leather helmet represents an earlier era of firefighting, before more advanced equipment and technology enhanced firefighting safety. An inscription inside the helmet reads “Maryville, Mo. Worn 7-24-79 NWMSU” and includes the address of the Mathes’ former home.

“It’s a great honor to give this back to the family,” said Owens, who served as Northwest's president from 1977 to 1984 and led University's resolve in the aftermath of the fire. “Dale was a great person and we all loved him.”


Said Holly Wilmes, “One of the last things my dad said was ‘I wish we would have found the helmet.’ Now he knows.”

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Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704