Before the University of Lethbridge was ever a leading institution, it was a dream in the hearts of visionaries like Paul Matisz, a then local lawyer in Lethbridge. The 1960s was an era marked with great debate around both the need and the location for an additional post-secondary institution in Lethbridge, but it was Paul’s firm opinion that educational matters were finally being given a top priority in the country and it was only a matter of time until a university would be established in southern Alberta. In 1967, Paul and others saw their hard work come to fruition. The University of Lethbridge was officially established and Paul was among the members appointed to the original Board of Governors.

Don Matisz (BASc (BA) '68)

Don Matisz (BASc (BA) ’68)

It only seemed fitting that Paul’s nephew, Don Matisz (BASc (BA) ’68), would enroll and be among the first students to attend the newly formed university. Don has vivid memories of those early days as an art student.

“The University was still on the south side, on the same campus as Lethbridge College (then Lethbridge Junior College). There was a big barn that had been converted for use as art studios and classrooms. The professors needed separate spaces for the potters, the painters and so on. They made dividers out of wooden frames and sackcloth, so sometimes, if you were working on a project, you could actually sit in on a lecture without being in the class,” he recalls.

Closeness, particularly among students and faculty, has stood out in Don’s memory over the last five decades.

“The professors became an extension of your family. They were approachable and wonderful teachers,” he recalls. “I remember one class I had on European history with Ted Orchard. There were only three students in the class, so we had the class in Ted’s office. We’d sit in there, him with his pipe, and we’d talk about European history. It was more of a conversation than a lecture.”

In 1968, there was a call for students to enter a contest to design a Coat of Arms for the University. Don carefully researched all the elements needed and put forward a submission. “I never dreamed I would win, but I did,”
he recounts.

Don Matisz's original artwork, 1968.

Don Matisz’s original artwork, 1968.

While many of the elements of that design have shifted over time, parts of the original Coat of Arms can still be seen, including the Fiat Lux banner as well as the sun, both of which continue to be integral identifying features of the current U of L logo.

“I feel honoured to have that long-standing legacy at the University, that a piece of me lives on,” says Don.

For Don, 1968 continued to be a monumental year. He would design the first scepter used at convocation and would also be the first graduate in the University’s multidisciplinary program. He went on to have a long career as a local art teacher and renowned potter, selling more than 20,000 pieces worldwide. 

Official U of L Coat of Arms, registered in 2012.

Official U of L Coat of Arms, registered in 2012.

While Don remained a proud alumnus, things came full circle when he was asked to participate in the University’s 25th anniversary at convocation. What really cemented that day in time was seeing his daughter, Laurianne (Matisz) Schell (BFA ’92), cross the stage in a cap and gown.

“Having been in that first graduating class, and watching me graduate 25 years later, made it a very special day for both of us,” recalls Laurianne. “I was excited to learn what the future held for me and very happy to share that day with my dad.”

Don Matisz (BASc (BA) '68) and Laurianne (Matisz) Schell (BFA '92) at Convocation in 1992.

Don Matisz (BASc (BA) ’68) and Laurianne (Matisz) Schell (BFA ’92) at Convocation in 1992.

For the Matisz family, the U of L continues to play a central role. Rhonda (Matisz) Nelson, another of Don’s daughters has worked in advising at the University since 2010, and the youngest  sister, Jessica (Matisz) Maneschyn, is currently enrolled as a student.

“My mom was working in the general office when she met my dad. Each family member has a special bond to the
U of L, which helps unite our family,” says Laurianne. “Whenever I see the U of L logo I’m reminded of my family’s connection to the University of Lethbridge.”

Story by Jana McFarland.