Living to be 102 is an accomplishment to be lauded. Living to be 102 in style, as Lou Matas of Atherton has done, is something to be celebrated.
Mr. Matas, who was born in San Francisco on Jan. 30, 1914, celebrated his 102nd birthday at a party at Harry's Hofbrau in Redwood City on Jan. 26, a few days before the big event. Mr. Matas even provided some of the entertainment, singing with the Golden Tones, a choral group he belongs to that often entertains at senior centers.
"All my friends were there," he says of the celebration, "and some people who aren't my friends." The non-friends would probably have been the local officials, including Atherton Vice Mayor Mike Lempres, who were there to present Mr. Matas with proclamations.
Mr. Matas has lived alone in Atherton since his wife, Marie, died in 1984. He cares for the modest home the couple bought in 1972, working in his garden filled with fruit and citrus trees, tinkering in the wood shop in his garage, or tooling around in his prized restored 1929 Model A Ford.
He also sings with the Golden Tones, and a few years ago, around age 98, joined the wacky Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band. He plays the washboard.
However, Mr. Matas says, his family thinks it's about time for him to cut back.
"My family wants me to have somebody come in, do the laundry, the vacuuming, what not," he says. "I like to take care of it myself, and I like to do my gardening."
On Wednesday, when he met with an Almanac reporter, Mr. Matas was a little unhappy, though. He'd been to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his driver's license and had a little trouble with the vision test. So now, he says, he will have to visit his eye doctor and get a prescription for new eyeglasses, so he can get back on the road, for his trips to Trader Joe's, the Stanford Medical Center and Safeway.
After all, that shiny Model A is waiting in the garage, and it needs to be taken out every once in a while. (He also has another car for everyday use.)
Mr. Matas worked as a carpenter much of his life, from the time he dropped out of high school to help support his family during the Depression to when he retired at the age of 68 to be with his very ill wife.
His father was a cook at the Boldemann Chocolate factory in San Francisco, and one of the few who had a job during the depths of the Depression, Mr. Matas says. Where the family lived south of Market Street is now under Interstate 280. His family later moved to the Lake Merced neighborhood. "From the end of our block, kids could walk to Lake Merced," he says.
After he married Marie, the Matas family lived in San Francisco until a doctor recommended somewhere with a bit less fog might help first-born daughter Libby's poor health. "The doctor thought that maybe if we could go somewhere where there would be a little sunshine," she would recover, he says, so the family moved to near Santa Rosa. (It apparently worked; Libby survived until 2005.)
Mr. Matas was in Santa Rosa on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He still remembers what happened. "The day after Pearl Harbor, the president made his great speech," he says, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of war against Japan. He remembers it, "like yesterday," he says. "People were crying on the streets."
"We were all so shocked," he says, "that another nation could, behind the scenes, try to undo a country like we were."
Because he was 27 years old and had a young child, instead of joining the military, Mr. Matas joined the war effort closer to home. The day after war was declared, he says, "we stopped all private building and we would all go for the war effort. I went to work in the shipyard in South San Francisco. We were building big ships, not Liberty ships."
"We were so busy," he says. "The war caused all the activity."
To make the commute to the shipyards easier, he and his family moved to the Peninsula, Mr. Matas says. His second daughter, Madeline was born at the Palo Alto Hospital in 1946.
He got his contractor's license and had his own business for a few years, Mr. Matas says, until he decided that he could spend much more time with his wife and daughters if he went to work for someone else. He worked for Jansen Construction, owned by Arthur Jansen, building mostly custom homes.
The family lived on Partridge Avenue in Menlo Park until they moved to Atherton in 1972, partially because they feared an expressway could end up going down their street, he says.
Atherton was more rural then, he says. "Wealthy business people from San Francisco came here to go to the country," he says. Many properties were bigger, five to seven acres, he says and homes "were few and far between."
Before Silicon Valley had ever been heard of, he says, "this was still the country."
The construction firm he worked for "was very instrumental" in subdividing many of the large parcels, he says.
"Things today are so different than when I was growing up," he says.
The proclamation read at his party by Vice Mayor Lempres said that, among other accomplishments, Mr. Matas was named honorary "Mayor of Maple Avenue" in 2007 by then-mayor Charles Marsala.
"Many people celebrate those who live long lives simply because they've lived so long," Mr. Lempres said. "That's not what people were celebrating," at Mr. Matas' party, he said. "He is loved and liked and admired," he said.
The party was filled with "lots of music and laughter" and "a great deal of affection for him," he said.
"Clearly he's got a zest for life. It's just awesome."