Albina Mattas of Wilson reached the century mark on February 15, 2013

Why do some people live to be 100 years old and others die in their 50s or younger? Do lifestyle, philosophy/attitude, and other choices contribute to the longevity of some—or is it a combination of genetics and modern medicine that have extended the lives of so many beyond this magical age?

Syndicated columnist Marie Snider considered the lives of one hundred year olds in her article, “Centenarian spirit,” in the 2/19/13 Pratt Tribune. It’s a good read. In her column, she notes that there are approximately 450,000 persons in the world today who are 100 years or older.

I don’t know if there is a secret formula or a combination of diet, activity-level, and lifestyle, but I do know a little bit about one Kansan who recently entered the ranks of the centenarian.

Last weekend, my wife and I traveled 90 miles north to Wilson to celebrate the 100th Birthday of Albina Mattas, who passed the century mark on February 15. Albina’s life has been characterized by her love of and commitment to her family, hard work, her Catholic faith, and her Czech heritage. She was the next to last of 17 children born to John and Josephine Oborny. She is the only member of her family of origin still alive.

My wife and I met Albina about four years ago when I contacted the City of Wilson regarding help with translating some family history documents from my great-grandparents, both of whom were born in Czechoslovakia and settled in the Wilson area when they first came to America. The city clerk referred me to Albina Mattas. Albina graciously agreed to translate the documents. When she discovered I like kolaces, Albina invited my wife and I back to learn the art of kolace-making. We had three lessons at her home in Wilson and have kept in touch ever since that initial meeting.

We last visited Albina at the July 2012 Czech Fest in Wilson. By then, she had moved into the Golden Living Center following a stroke last winter, as well as ongoing heart problems. Prior to that, she lived more or less independently in her home. Of course, she had good neighbors and family members who checked on and helped her regularly. One neighbor, who had brought her mail both at home and to the nursing facility, said that all she had been talking about for the last few months was her upcoming 100th birthday celebration … and her windmills. Over the past year, several large wind turbines had been located on her property, and she often asked her neighbor if the mail brought any land-lease payments.

Of the approximately 175 people attending the birthday party, a majority were relatives, either from the Oborny or Mattas side. Albina and her husband Ernest had four children. She also counts 16 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren among her progeny. Not many families today are as large as the one Albina came from. As I considered the many relatives present, it reminded me that family is what is truly most important. Also, in pondering a large family tree like that of Albina (Oborny) Mattas, with its many branches and offshoots, it is easy to see how, eventually, we can all trace back to a common ancestor, being children of the same Heavenly Father.

While not doing well physically due to a recent stroke, Albina fortunately made it to St. Wenceslaus Parish Hall for this celebration of a life lived. I am glad to have been able to visit with her briefly last Saturday and am also thankful that she remembered Kathie and me, even though it had been over six months since our last visit.