EPWORTH, Iowa — Matthew Boland sought the American dream: a house he built with his hands, a truck parked in the driveway and a wife and kids.
He did not desire a mansion — just a roof over his head.
For a time, it seemed as though he had it.
“On the surface, he had the biggest, most contagious smile,” said his sister Jessica Frye. “People would have never guessed that he was struggling.”
Matthew, 35, died by suicide in late January.
His loss has shaken his family and friends, who remember Matthew’s patient compassion and stubborn resolve. Hearing a recording of his resonant belly laugh still evokes smiles.
Matthew, of Epworth, stood just 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but he moved quickly, which bode well for his high school football career as a running back for the Western Dubuque Bobcats.
He liked any activity that offered the possibility of winning. Later in life, it was Monday night darts with his buddy Mike Wooldridge, golfing with his six siblings and even a pumpkin carving contest at his family’s annual fall festival.
Perhaps his taste for victory stemmed from his perfectionism.
“You can always do better,” Matthew was fond of saying.
The trait manifested in his craftsmanship as a construction worker.
Starting at age 14, he worked at the family business, Pete Conrad Construction. He could do it all: laying tile, shingling and, his favorite task, framing.
“He was so precise. He would want to cut his own boards,” said Pete, Matthew’s stepfather.
Matthew insisted on sizing them to within a fraction of an inch, prompting his mother, Diana Conrad, to intervene.
When worksite accidents happened, he would not complain if he was injured.
Matthew fell off a ladder and dropped 16 feet, fracturing bones in his heels. About a week later, he cut off his casts, which he said choked his circulation. Matthew pushed himself to walk down the aisle without crutches at his sister’s wedding.
When he did eat, Matthew did so ravenously. He could wolf down five McDonald’s Big Macs over the course of a meal and joked that he was acquiring a “dad bod.”
He never turned down a beer, which provided a chance to socialize and dampened the voices he heard inside his head.
About six years before his death, Matthew’s mental health began to worsen. Family members said he believed people were monitoring his movements and discussing him when he was not present.
Matthew did not share details, only saying, “They’re telling me something bad is going to happen.”
His mood also dipped.
“Matthew would be (at home) sitting at the counter, and we would have 12 people here,” Diana said. “You’d look at him, and he would have tears coming down his eyes. The depression just took over everything.”
He received treatment, but the side effects of the medication were intolerable.
Matthew struggled under the gravity of loss after his divorce was finalized last year. He married his wife in 2011 and was the proud father of two girls. Their giggles and zest probably helped him persevere for as long as he did, his family said.
Matthew continued to give of himself.
“He was good at wanting to shelve his problems to help you with yours,” recalled his friend Jayde Griffin.
When people asked Matthew how he was doing, he could deflect the question with ease.
“He would switch it over,” said longtime friend Cory Lehman. “‘What do you want to do Cory? What makes you happy?’ … I think he wanted everyone around him to be happy.”
Sometimes, without an apparent reason, Matthew dropped by the house of his father, Michael Boland — just to visit.
“To me, that’s gold,” Michael said.
Matthew’s death has highlighted for Diana the shortage of brain health resources in Dubuque County.
She is having shirts printed to draw attention to the issue. They will feature decals of a green awareness ribbon and a message: “I have an angel looking out for me.”
“I’d like to do something,” Diana said.