UNI alum is the Matchmaker

When Patrick Acton graduated from UNI in 1977 with a degree in social work, he had no idea that one day he'd be creating custom works of art for Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Matchstick Marvels
The Hogwarts Castle model took 602,000 matchsticks and 24 gallons of carpenter glue to create.

An Iowa boy from Greene County, Acton spent much of his childhood tinkering and experimenting, including cutting up a bicycle frame and adding a lawn mower engine; building a fully-enclosed tree house, complete with glass windows, painted siding and heating stove; and restoring an abandoned Ford Model T truck to running condition.

Following high school graduation, Acton had no plans to attend college and he served a short active duty stint in the Army National Guard. He returned with what he describes as a "newfound appreciation for education and what it could mean for me as an adult."

Acton enrolled in UNI and began pursuing a degree in social work. Upon graduation, he worked as a counselor dealing with youth at the State Training School in Eldora, Iowa. He later accepted a position as a career counselor at Iowa Valley Community College District, where he remained until he recently took early retirement to devote more time to a "hobby" he'd picked up fresh out of college.

Back in 1977, armed with nothing more than a box of matches purchased at the grocery store, a bottle of school glue, a utility knife and a piece of sandpaper, Acton built his first matchstick model – a small country church. A model of a ship, the frigate USS Constitution, soon followed, and what began as a wintertime hobby became a passion for Acton.

Matchstick Marvels
Acton places each matchstick by hand on the Notre Dame Cathedral model.

Fast forward to present day. Acton has created more than 60 incredibly detailed models, including the Space Shuttle Challenger, Notre Dame Cathedral and the city of Minas Tirith from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, using millions of ordinary, two-inch long wooden matchsticks. His most recent completion was the new World Trade Center, including the four primary towers, the Transportation Hub, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the park with reflecting pools where the original Twin Towers stood before the Sept. 11 attack.

They've been featured on TV, in magazines and in Ripley's Believe It or Not museums around the world. In fact, Acton now works full time building matchstick models for Ripley's Entertainment, the parent company of Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Acton credits much of his good fortune, both professional and personal, to experiences at UNI. It was here that he received an education that led into an "outstanding and fulfilling" profession; gained lifelong friends while living in Bender Hall; and met his future wife, April, with whom he has three children. One of them, Brennan, is currently at UNI pursuing a teaching degree.

Perhaps just as important, Acton recognizes that "though my bachelor's degree was essential in getting professional employment, other significant experiences like exposure to cultural events, political processes, sports, music and social events helped form who I am and so much of what I believe is important to my happy life. My education served me very well and I'm still proud to wear the Purple and Gold."

To learn more about Acton's incredible creations and the Matchstick Marvel museum in Gladbook, Iowa, visit www.matchstickmarvels.com.