Tipton County nonagenarian's land donation to serve as launching point for nature trail

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TIPTON, Indiana — Dan Mattingly will tell you he's just a routine guy.

His life's work proves he's anything but routine.

At 93 years old, he's seen the far corners of the globe as a Naval officer during World War II, and nearly every corner of Tipton County during a 50-year farming career. He's now prepared to give the only place he's truly known as home a sizeable land donation.

Tipton County officials announced recently that Mattingly, along with wife Tommie, donated two parcels of land southeast of town which total over 30 acres. The county hopes to use the land as a launching point for a nature trail that could extend all the way into Tipton, the Kokomo Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1AwqFGl ).

Tipton County is in Mattingly's blood. His father was born in 1880, two rooms down from where Mattingly himself would be brought into the world in 1921.

"Everybody won," Mattingly said. "We saved the deer and woods and did a community service. You can't beat that. I've had plenty of acclaim - more than I deserved. What's more important is Tipton."

County officials agree - Mattingly deserves the acclaim.

"His life is just an experience of what most of us would experience in three lifetimes," Tipton County Commissioner Joe Vanbibber said. "And, that's not just because of his age, but the timing. From his childhood, living through the Depression, living through the war, then post-war as a businessman, he's seen a lot economically and socially. He's a very interesting man."

A 1939 Tipton High School graduate, Mattingly spent his first few years out of school working for Perfect Circle in Tipton and Delco-Remy in Anderson before deciding to enlist in the Navy in 1942. He enlisted even though his brother was already in the National Guard and his sister and father were both stricken with tuberculosis and assigned to Irene Byron Sanitarium in Fort Wayne after his mother passed away.

"The Germans could've come up Cicero Creek before I had to go, but I didn't want to miss it," Mattingly said. "And I didn't. I had three years, three months and three days in New York, London and Paris. I had a wonderful time and am still having a wonderful time."

After finishing atop his class as a diesel mechanic at General Motors Tech in Cleveland, Ohio, Mattingly served in World War II, and as a second-class petty officer aboard LST 212, fought in the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. He returned to Normandy in June of 2014 to take part in the 70th anniversary commemoration, where he was honored by the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama.

"We went up a draw, which is like an empty creek, left of what's (depicted) in 'Saving Private Ryan'," Mattingly explained. "We weren't under heavy fire like you see in the movie, where it was 90- to 95-percent casualties. We didn't have that. I got all the glory without having my tail shot at."

He finished his service as a chief petty officer in late 1945. After he returned home, he ran the Tipton Light and Water Company from 1948 to 1952, and spent 50 years farming the family's 500 acres as a Pioneer Hybrids affiliate.

He'll be 94 in March, but still stays highly active in the community, hitting the links at Tipton Golf Course when it's in season and attending regular Rotary Club meetings.

"Honest to God, I could be walking down the street with two guys, and both guys beside me could get hurt and I'd be fine," Mattingly said. "I have lived a charmed life. I seem to be naturally luckier than the average person. I'm on a roll and I don't know how soon this damn thing will fall apart."

Mattingly credits Tommie for a lot of his success. A 1943 Tipton grad, Tommie studied at Heron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis from 1944 to 1947, where she developed herself into an award-winning artist. A cancer survivor of more than 40 years, her works are on permanent display at the Tipton County Library.

"I talk too damn much and get involved with people," Mattingly said. "She's the brains, I just do all the talking. She's very successful, and it's fair to give her acclaim because I get more than I deserve."

The couple had been looking to donate the parcels of land for nearly 20 years, and had tried to do so through the Department of Natural Resources.

The deal appeared ready to go through, but close to the closing, a private donation of 25,000 acres from another party in 2009 nixed the deal with Mattingly.

After a couple more opportunities fell through, in 2012, Mattingly struck up a conversation with Jason Henderson, the Tipton County surveyor, regarding the land during a breakfast at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, where both are members.

The Mattinglys, who have been married for 66 years, wanted to save the woods and deer associated with the land they were looking to donate. Mattingly estimates a herd of close to 35 inhabits the woods on the land.

County officials agreed after a couple of short meetings to accept the land and Mattingly's terms of preserving the wildlife associated with it, and the transfer deal was completed in November of 2014.

"It means a lot to the county," Vanbibber said. "If we are going to move forward in this county progressively, we have to start doing things in the area of parks and recreation. If you go to our (former) landfill (on 300 South) and walk back along (Cicero) Creek, you can walk all the way to McDonald's in an hour and a half on your worst day. I think it's just a great opportunity and great start where everybody gets focused on this thing.

"It's a very generous gift that fits the community well."

The land sits about 2.5 miles from city limits, and roughly 2,100 or 2,200 feet of that estimated distance includes the Mattingly land.

According to Henderson, the land is mostly wooded and low-lying area. As a result, it is prone to flooding, and not conducive to building structures. That's not much of a concern considering the transfer agreement is geared toward the preservation, and not development, of the land.

"The vision would be to connect it to the city of Tipton, and then connect it to the parks system through that walking trail," Henderson said. "The interesting part is Dan's donation has somewhat been a catalyst. Before that, we went through our comprehensive plans for the city and county, and they both identified the need for parks areas. Believe it or not, one of them was a walking trail along Cicero Creek. Then, out of the blue, Dan's donation has become the potential centerpiece."

Henderson said he would like to see the process to make the trail a reality move as quickly as possible.

As for a name for the trail?

"It seems to me like at the time this thing becomes reality, it would be very difficult for anybody to name it anything other than Mattingly Trail," Vanbibber said.


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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