For 38 years, Paul Mathis led two theater productions a year at Lower Cape May Regional High School.
"Every fall, he did a drama, then in the spring, he did the musical," said his wife, Violande. "He retired from teaching in 2009, but still still ran the theater."
The Upper Township resident liked teaching English and humanities at the school, but he loved theater and music. He was directing shows even before he graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He met his wife because the then-Violande Girardi was in a choir - directed by Paul Mathis.
"He was a student, a year ahead of me," she said.
Paul, who grew up near Camden, got the Lower Cape job in 1975. When the two got married, Violande was hired at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, where she still teaches.
She said the only thing that kept Paul from doing his 39th musical this spring was that he was diagnosed with advanced cancer last December. He died last month, at 61.
Paul affected a lot of lives in his life, and helped several students break into show business.
One of them is Chris Jay, who was Chris Jurewicz when he grew up in Lower Township - with parents, Ed and Lisa, who were Lower Cape colleagues and good friends with Paul.
Now Chris Jay is the frontman in Army of Freshmen, a California-based band that's making a name in the rock 'n' roll world. When he heard how sick Paul was, he started organizing The Concert for Mr. Mathis, a tribute to his old friend and mentor.
"We decided to show Paul how much he meant to so many people's lives," Lisa Jurewicz said. He knew about the plans, but sadly, he didn't live to see the show this month.
"So it became just a big testimonial to his life," she added.
Army of Freshmen flew in from California. Several other Lower Cape graduates who are now entertainers also showed up and played, free, for a crowd of almost 1,000. It just about filled the high school's theater - which the old theater teacher was so crucial in expanding and improving that Joe Castellucci, the longtime principal, called it "'the house Paul Mathis built,'" Violande said. "That really got to me."
Another attraction was Old School, a band made up of Lower Cape teachers, some of them Paul's best friends. One is Jim Colubiale, a retired English teacher and friend for 35 years.
Colubiale thought it would be a hard gig to play, "But once we got up there, I just went into performance mode - the way Paul would have expected," he said.
Colubiale played adult roles in a few of Mathis' shows over the years, and he always admired his buddy's opening-night pep talks to the cast.
"He'd say, 'I've done all I could - the show is now yours,'" Colubiale added.
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