JAYCESS, Miss. (AP) - Lee Mathis has served in the Navy, Army and National Guard and lived all over the world. Now retired from the Army, he teaches ROTC at Lawrence County High School - and builds wooden boats in his spare time.
Mathis, 51, began building boats last March as a way to teach his autistic son Chance, 18, a marketable skill. Since then he's made five.
Mathis sold his first boat to a man from Monticello, and business took off from there.
Mathis said he had prayed for a skill to teach Chance, and Matthew 4:19 came to mind: "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'"
So he named the business Fishers of Men.
"Every boat I build, we title that as Fishers of Men. People say, 'Man, where did you get that name from?' And it gives us the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ," said Mathis, a member of Calvary Baptist Church at Pricedale.
He had been reconditioning boats for 10 years, as well as doing carpentry work and painting on the side, so the boat-building came naturally.
"I don't have boat plans," Mathis said. "I never bought one. I just looked at a picture and said, 'I can do that.'"
He makes the vessels at a shop by his home on Mississippi Highway 44 in the Jayess community of Walthall County.
The boats are square-sterned pirogues - narrow, flat-bottomed, pointed bow, steep hulls. The square stern enables the user to attach a trolling motor.
Mathis splits a motor in half, with the propeller on the stern and the tiller on the hull next to the rear seat.
He uses luan plywood and fiberglass in the construction process. The boats are 12 to 14 feet long and weigh less than 100 pounds. The base price is $750, and a boat takes six to eight weeks to build.
"It's inexpensive family fun," said Mathis, who also makes johnboats.
He builds the boats to order, adding features as requested.
On one he installed a roller at the bottom of the stern to make it easy to transport. On another he's attaching removable 10-inch rubber tires, which can go on the bottom of the stern for dragging to the water or on the top of the stern for loading on a vehicle.
Ironically, Mathis isn't a canoer, and he hasn't put his own boats in the water yet. He hopes to try them out this spring at Percy Quin State Park.
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