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James Michael Mathews

October 22, 1945 April 4, 2024
James Michael Mathews
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Obituary for James Michael Mathews

James Michael Mathews, a masterful photographer who chronicled countless cherished life memories for others and whose own life served as the epicenter of even more beloved memories for friends, family and loved ones, died on Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Peoria, Illinois. He was 78.

James ("Jim") encountered extraordinary challenges in his final 12 months, suffering five heart attacks, enduring regular dialysis treatments and persisting through deteriorating mobility. Yet, his unwavering strength, stubborn resolve and sheer will were evident in every battle he faced. While those closest to him mourn deeply, they find comfort in knowing that Jim is finally at peace.

Jim is survived by his best friend, devoted supporter and wife of 46 years, Donna, and their two children, Nick (Diane) Mathews and Melanie (Jeffrey) Symons. Jim is also survived by his first wife, Kathy (Ron) Biggs, who remained a friend and steady presence in family life, and their two children, Kevin (Mara) Mathews and Chris (Melissa) Mathews. Additionally, he is survived by grandchildren Eagan James, O'neal and Jared and great-grandson Carter, as well as his brother Mike (Cindy).

Jim was born to Jim and Millie Mathews on Oct. 22, 1945, in Orange, California. He grew up in Creve Coeur, Illinois, and remained rooted in the Central Illinois area his entire life. Jim graduated from East Peoria High School in 1963 and married Kathy in 1964. Later, he met Donna at the Pekin Daily Times, while he was the chief photographer and she worked as an administrative assistant. They married in 1977 and bought their Pekin home a year later. Years later, he used his architecture studies at Bradley University (he claimed to be a "forever junior") to design the floor plan and the construction of an extension on the house.

Starting in 1976, Jim and Donna owned and operated Mathews Photography, a respected family institution in the community. Behind the camera, Jim captured life's milestones - from a 1,000-plus weddings to thousands of senior high school portraits, as well as an array of anniversaries, events and family portraits. Undoubtedly, a Jim Mathews framed photo adorned the walls of innumerable homes, serving as timeless reminders of treasured moments.

Additionally, Jim passed along his passion for photography, teaching courses for several years at Illinois Central College. His commitment to photography remained so steadfast, he rejected retirement, snapping frames as long as his finger could press the shutter.

Jim lived life the way he wanted. He was not only a driven and hard-working businessman but also a devoted husband, encouraging father and loving grandfather. Jim was most supportive of his children when they needed him the most, during their times of trouble, forever backing them, even when others would question their choices. To be sure, he cared for others more than himself.

Jim was an avid gardener, a master griller (the hamburgers had to be made his way) and made the best pancakes. He excelled at exterior illuminations, loved hosting Fourth of July parties (he was a kid at heart and just wanted to blow stuff up) and enjoyed music, especially Elton John, Patsy Cline and Jim Croce (remember, as Jim Croce says, “Don't mess around with Jim”).

More than anything, though, Jim found enjoyment in the simple pleasure of sitting hours upon hours on his front porch swing - whether enjoying peace alone, surrounded by loved ones or anticipating visitors.

Per his wishes cremation has been accorded and no services will be held.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Central Illinois Memorial Kidney Fund, (, which helps chronic kidney disease patients in need cover costs such as transportation, groceries or medication.

The Cremation Society of Mid-Illinois Co. Pekin/Peoria is assisting the family with arrangements. Online condolences may be made at

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