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Know Your Neighbors: Sandra Mateer Cares for New Bethlehem Community As If It Were Her Own Child

Tuesday, November 28, 2023 @ 12:11 AM

Posted by Jacob Deemer

7527527NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT) – Although Sandra Mateer wasn’t born and raised in Pennsylvania, she now calls the New Bethlehem area home, and she loves the community as if it were her own child.

This story is part of our Know Your Neighbors series. If there’s a person in our community that you think we should spotlight, reach out to us and tell us why.

Sandra (Olters) was born in New Jersey and spent most of her adult life in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

She told exploreClarion.com that she grew up knowing she was going to be a teacher.

“My brother hated it because I always practiced teaching on him,” Sandra chuckled. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and I loved history.”

However, teaching was far from what she ended up doing.

After struggling to find a teaching job, she decided to switch careers and pursue a general practice certificate at a paralegal institute in Philadelphia.

From there, she targeted her job hunt in Alexandria, Virginia, a place she was drawn to due to past vacations.

Sandra in her younger years.

Sandra Mateer in her earlier years.

Sandra decided to go one step further and attend Georgetown Law School to become an attorney.

“I went to law school at night while I was working during the day,” she recalled. “For four years, I worked 40 hours a week, went to school, and studied for 10 or 12 hours at night.”

She graduated in 1984.

As an attorney, Sandra was very successful and even co-founded Chadwick, Washington & Olters, a community association law firm practicing condominium and homeowner association law that grew to three offices with 48 employees.

Sandra’s road to New Bethlehem–however–didn’t start until she met the love of her life, Terry Mateer.

She met him at a singles group at a church in Virginia. He worked in The Pentagon with the U.S. Army’s Cost and Economic Analysis Division.

According to Sandra, there was one stipulation to marrying Terry who had grown up in New Bethlehem and always knew he wanted to retire in the area.

“That was one of the conditions of marrying him, that I’d be willing to come here,” Sandra laughed.

Terry and Sandra on Mateer Bridge in Burrell Township in 2016.

Terry and Sandra on Mateer Bridge in Clover Township in 2016.

They settled in what used to be the Mateer Funeral Home, which they renovated over a span of more than a year around 2002.

It didn’t take long for the Mateers to become involved in the community.

Terry first got involved with the Redbank Municipal Authority and was appointed to serve two five-year terms on its board.

“I think he was instrumental in getting the new water plant, the new dam, and the new sewage plant built because he spent a lot of time there,” Sandra said. “He had worked in Cost & Economic Analysis for the Army, so he was able to use those skills to help guide the process and work with the contractors, which he was used to.

“He was very instrumental in getting all those facilities built for the community. They were in pretty bad shape, so they needed to be replaced.”

Terry encouraged Sandra to attend the New Bethlehem Borough Council meetings.

“I started going to the meetings, and I decided I wanted to run for election to see if I could help with getting them on better footing,” she said. “Both Terry and I believed in reserve schedules, planning ahead for extensions, and trying to do things to improve the community.”

Sandra served on the borough council for 16 years, while also serving as president for a majority of that time. She held a position as vice president until 2021.

Before moving to New Bethlehem, Sandra and Terry did some traveling, as they loved photography, before “completely investing themselves in volunteer work.”

“When I got here, everybody seemed to know where things were, but as a new resident, I didn’t know and you had to ask people,” Sandra explained. “So, I created a community guide, essentially, to let people know when the garbage was collected and where to go for various information, and who was serving on the various boards.”

Sandra then organized various cleanup days, which led to the renovation of the Charles Andrews Estate and the “reinvigoration” of the Peanut Butter Festival Bike Race.

The Redbank Renaissance was born out of those community cleanups, Sandra said.

“I saw an opportunity to bring some economic development to the community, so I got involved with the Main Street program,” she related. “We followed the Main Street format with Redbank Renaissance and we had a lot of great people working with us to promote area artists.

The Redbank Renaissance also started an art and craft show on the first Saturday of December, a tradition that lasted about 10 years, with the mission to promote area artists and bring people into the community.

The arts and craft show ended in 2017, and led to the creation of the Gallery at New Bethlehem Town Center.

Sandra and Terry at a Valentine's Day dinner in 2014.

Sandra and Terry at a Valentine’s Day dinner in 2014.

“My husband and I never had any children, so we kind of adopted a community and tried to improve things,” Sandra said. “We also both loved history, and it helped that the town had a lot of great history. We wanted to promote that.”

Sandra is also president and a founding member of the Redbank Valley Trails Association.

“Someone had once mentioned the need for a walking trail by the creek because it gets flooded on occasion,” she said. “But, when the opportunity for creating a rails to trail organization came up, I started working on that in 2007 with former state representative Fred McIlhattan and the Allegheny Valley Land Trust.”

As a retired lawyer, Sandra said she had some of those skills that would help to get grants and work on documentation.

“My husband’s family connections here was the primary force, but I just saw a lot of potential in the community,” she explained. “There are a lot of benefits to the community, but we thought it needed some help and economic development.”

Terry passed away in 2022 after a courageous battle with cancer.

When asked what she thinks is the key to a prosperous future for the area, Sandra simply said, “OPM—Other People’s Money can really benefit this area.”

“We can bring people in and it will help local residents,” she said. “Tourism is essentially easy pickins because we’ve got the trails and they connect to the larger trail network. We’ve got hunting and fishing and kayaking.”

For now, Sandra’s time is spent on New Bethlehem Town Center and volunteering on Boards and writing grants for the Southern Clarion Police Association, Redbank Valley Trails Association, Redbank Renaissance and New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church.

“It was falling down and leaking, the roof was in bad shape, and it kind of felt like a calling to not see it deteriorate any more,” Sandra noted. “I’ve put a lot of money into it, and I’ve tried to provide something the community can be proud of.”

The New Bethlehem Town Center in 2017, six weeks after being purchased by Sandra Mateer.

The New Bethlehem Town Center in 2017, six weeks after being purchased by Sandra Mateer.

The New Bethlehem Town Center in October 2023.

The New Bethlehem Town Center in October 2023.

Know Your Neighbors is an ongoing series focusing on people making a positive impact in Clarion County. To nominate a Clarion County resident, email news@exploreClarion.com


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