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Late Willmar, Minn., doctor remembered for his volunteerism, generosity

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WILLMAR -- Those who knew Dr. Donald Mattson remember him foremost as caring and generous.

"His concern for his fellow man was just legendary. He demonstrated that in so many ways," said Ronald Schneider, who belonged with Mattson to the Willmar Noon Kiwanis club.

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Mattson, 81, died Dec. 29 at Bethesda Pleasant View. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 14 at United Methodist Church in Willmar, where Mattson was a longtime active member.

Born the son of a Methodist minister, Mattson dedicated more than 40 years to a career in medicine that started in the 1950s with missionary work in Korea. From 1967 until his retirement, he was an internal medicine physician in Willmar.

"He just enjoyed helping people," said his wife, Marlys.

He was one of the founding doctors of Affiliated Community Medical Centers and served for several years as chief of staff at Rice Memorial Hospital.

Among his real passions were hospice and bereavement care. He was an early supporter of Rice Hospice when the program was launched in the 1980s and was its first medical director, a position he held for 10 years.

It was a passion he shared with his wife, who ran the Rice Hospice volunteer program. Together, the Mattsons also laid the groundwork for The Grief Center at Rice Hospital by donating the core funding to open The Grief Center.

Their gift was at least partly inspired by grief of their own: Their son, Tom, drowned in 1971, just three days short of his 20th birthday.

In an interview in 1998, Mattson talked about the importance of recognizing bereavement and loss and helping those who have been bereaved.

He recalled going back to work a few days after his son's funeral. "That was sort of what was expected of us. People didn't know any better," he said. "I didn't know how to grieve myself. Nobody taught us."

The Mattsons' support "without a doubt" was key to the establishment of The Grief Center, said Jack Behr, who was assistant administrator at Rice Memorial Hospital during most of Mattson's tenure on the medical staff.

"If he hadn't done it, I don't think it would have been done," Behr said. "He was a gentleman and an excellent physician."

After retiring from ACMC, Mattson slowed down only slightly, continuing to work for some years at Willmar Regional Treatment Center. "He needed to be active," his wife said.

Mattson also embraced numerous volunteer causes. He was active in his church and with Habitat for Humanity. He also belonged to the Kiwanis and was a tireless champion of a Kiwanis International project to eliminate iodine deficiency worldwide. He served as state chairman of the project, donating countless hours to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring iodization to developing countries.

For this and his other volunteer work, he received the Touch A Life award in 1996 from the Willmar Noon Kiwanis.

Survivors include his wife, five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Arrangements are with the Harvey Anderson Funeral Home in Willmar. Memorials are preferred to Rice Hospice, Kiwanis or the Alzheimer's Association of Minnesota-North Dakota.

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