Whether he’s investigating the death at a fatal car crash or delivering a sermon, Larry Mathein is driven by one compulsion-to help others, especially those in need. “I’m at the point in my life where I know what I need to do to be happy,” he said. “And that’s being hands on, helping people on a one to one basis.”
Larry will be helping his fellow man in a unique way in the days and months ahead. He was approved and hired by the Oneida County board on April 16 to serve as chief medical examiner for both Oneida and Forest counties. It’s a job he is not unfamiliar with. “I worked in this office a while back,” he said. “However, I had to resign because other obligations came into play, but I’m honored to have been chosen to fulfill this duty.”
Being a medical examiner takes a certain kind of fortitude, mixed with a good dose of compassion, and Larry learned those lessons early on while he was attending high school. That’s when he started training to be a paramedic and EMT. He grew up in Glenview, a suburb of Chicago, and it was his father who inspired him to venture into this career. “My dad was the first full-time firefighter in Glenview,” he said. “I guess I have to admit I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junky. I think you have to be to get into firefighting or emergency medical work.”
So enthused was this young man about being a paramedic and EMT, he enrolled in every course he could to learn how to help those who were injured and in need of emergency medical care. “The idea of first responders was new back in the 1970s,” he said. “That’s about the time this concept really took off and I took every class I could.”
Once he graduated from high school Larry continued his courses and was hired by the fire department has a paramedic. Over the years Glenview grew from a sleepy suburb to a bustling city in its own right and as time passed, Larry found himself sitting more and more behind a desk. “As the development of emergency medicine grew so did the administrative end of it,” he said. “I found myself sitting behind a desk more and finally decided that’s not where I was the happiest. I missed the hands on interaction I had with people.”
In the early 1990s, Larry moved to Somers, a small town in Kenosha County. He was one of two full-time people on that medical emergency staff. About this time he and a partner also started American Graffiti, a business that focused on removing graffiti from bridges, schools and other structures. It was successful and Larry became so proficient at the job that his business was soon contracting with agencies across the United States to restore historical buildings and even statues. “The process of removing graffiti and old paint and grime is pretty much the same,” he said.
In 1994, Larry and his wife Ellen, married. Ellen had been a steady visitor to the Northwoods throughout her childhood at Phil’s Resort, now known as Bootleggers. Her dream was to retire here and it didn’t take much convincing, to make that part of Larry’s dream too. “I had come up north as a kid to Antigo, but I quickly fell in love with this area,” he said.
At this point in their careers, Larry and Ellen decided it was time to prepare for the future so they found a piece of property they fell in love with in Little Rice and by 1995 had built a small homestead. The couple immensely enjoyed all the wildlife that came to visit their property and soon became regulars at a feed store in Tomahawk. Then one day, when Larry was in the area, he heard on the radio that this store was for sale. “We should buy it,” quipped Ellen. That planted a seed, and in no time the couple opened My Feedstore and Garden Shop in Tomahawk.
Larry sold his graffiti removing business to run the feed store full-time, and Ellen continued working part-time as a CPA for Morgan, Stanley, Dean, Witter. “It was a good thing she was only working part-time back in 2001,” said Larry. “Her company had offices in the World Trade Center and I think if Ellen wouldn’t have been part-time she could have been killed on 9-11.”
Another one of Larry’s talents is preaching the gospel and while he was still living in Glenview, he became ordained as a minster in the mid 1980s. When the couple moved to Little Rice they enjoyed attending The Log Church in Tripoli and Larry soon found himself behind the puplit when the minister there decided to retire. He also preaches at the Congregational Church in Fifield.
In addition to all those duties, Larry became Fire Chief for the Town of Little Rice, and for a short spell was also a medical investigator for Oneida County. He resigned in that capacity back in 2011 and then when Oneida County’s Coroner, Traci England, was let go due to misconduct in office back in February, he was asked to apply for the position. At first he was a little reluctant. “I have to admit I really didn’t want to get back in it, but God opens and closes doors in everyone’s life, and sometimes you have to go through those doors whether you want to or not,” he said. “Now I’m glad to be back in it. Let’s face it, I have a lot of experience with death, and you need that to really know what goes on in a job like this.”
There are distinct differences between a coroner and medical examiner. A coroner is elected and no specific qualifications are required, only more votes than a vying opponent. Medical examiners have training is this area of expertise, and in fact Larry is certified and licensed through the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.
As chief medical examiner, Larry oversees one deputy medical examiner and three death investigators. These people cover a large area, including Forest County that contracts with Oneida County for these services. Larry’s job is not only to pronounce people dead, but he also must work hand in hand with law enforcement investigators when an individual dies from unknown causes, in an accident or suspiciously. He also arranges autopsies which, in Oneida and Forest counties, are performed in Fond du Lac. “We contract these out down there because that’s all they do,” said Larry. “Then we know we are getting the right information in case there is a court case involved and we are confident with this facility to determine causes of death and to perform toxicology tests if need be.”
Every county in Wisconsin must have a coroner or medical examiner on staff. Legally only a medical doctor, coroner, hospice nurse or medical examiner can pronounce someone dead. A medical examiner’s position has become more diverse over the years and includes lots of legal paperwork and in many cases thorough investigations working hand in hand with a variety of agencies.
But those challenges are welcome to this industrious and caring man who realizes his responsibilities as a medical examiner include plenty of legal, and moral, obligations.
“I know this is a job not very many people would want to do, but it’s because of that I feel I can be of service to others,” he said. “And helping others is really what I want to do.”
Associate Editor Mary Ann Doyle is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.