Roman Meal serves as testament to a man driven by many interests

On the wall of the office Chuck Matthaei occupied until his death last week at the age of 93 stands a Pacific Blue Marlin, 11 feet long.

Beneath this art of a taxidermist stands a certificate signed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur attesting to Matthaei’s presence at the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in 1945.

Fishing might have been his passion and his service to the United States a point of pride, but it is the family-owned company he helped build – Tacoma’s Roman Meal — that will be Matthaei’s legacy.

In 2012, he was able to join the celebration as Roman Meal marked its 100th year.

“His life was built on his devotion to this company,” said son Bill Matthaei on Monday afternoon.

“He was a member of the Greatest Generation,” Matthaei said. “He grew up in the Depression.”

The elder Matthaei met his wife, Helen, in New York City while performing pre-commissioning duties aboard the Missouri. Helen and Chuck were married a few days short of 66 years, and at Helen’s memorial, two years ago, Matthaei insisted the musical selections include Guy Lombardo, who played the night the couple met.

An ROTC graduate, Matthaei would go on to serve aboard the Missouri for the remainder of, and then beyond, World War II. A graduate of Stadium High School and the University of Washington, Matthaei joined Roman Meal in 1947.

“At the time, our largest sales were in hot cereal,” Bill Matthaei said. “We had some business in the Upper Midwest and in the East, and on the coast. In the early ’50s, bread began to become the dominant product.”

It was and it remains bread with a mission and a message focused on nutrition, on “Natural Whole Grain Goodness.”

“His real driving force was his interest in and commitment to whole-grain nutrition,” said Bill Matthaei. His interests included healthful living, healthy aging, childhood obesity and micronutrients.

The elder Matthaei took two “bet-the-company” decisions with Roman Meal, Bill Matthaei said. He expanded the company’s operations to include a mill in North Dakota, and he consolidated Roman Meal’s licensing agreements. He also took the company’s products to Japan.

Chuck Matthaei was a member of Tacoma Rotary and a recipient of the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. During his career, he was honored by his industry and within his community both for his works and for his commitment, and along with the marlin and the certificate on the wall stand plaques, photos and mementos as proof of his contributions.

Chuck Matthaei is survived by a brother, three sons, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be March 13 at 1 p.m. at Mountain View Funeral Home, 4100 Steilacoom Blvd. SW in Lakewood.