Longtime Beacon resident looks back on his 100 years
By Jeff Simms
Salvatore “Phil” Mattracion claims he’s lived “kind of a dull life.” But once he starts talking about his 100 years, that’s hard to believe.
Growing up just outside Beacon, Mattracion first came to the city on an 8-cent train ride from the hamlet of Chelsea. At 13, following the death of his stepfather, he and his family moved to Beacon looking for work. And after Mattracion returned from his Navy service in World War II at age 26, he raised his family in the city, which by then was a thriving industrial hub.
Mattracion became a centenarian on Dec. 22, celebrating with a party at the Memorial Building on Main Street. His 90th birthday party was held at the Southern Dutchess bowling alley on Route 52 (since closed). He lives now with his daughter, Mary Ann, in Wappingers Falls, and looks in excellent health, of sound mind and body, with stories aplenty.
After finishing the eighth grade in 1932, Mattracion had to find work to support his mother and eight siblings.
“I wasn’t quite 14,” he recalls. “I lied about my age so I could work at the Lewittes Furniture factory. It was piece-work. How much money you made was based on how ambitious you were.
“For this thing,” he says, pointing to a section of the couch, “I would get a dollar.”
From there, Mattracion moved to a position at the Brockway brickyard on the north side of Beacon. The clay deposits along the shorelines of the Hudson were so plentiful then, “you could walk from Chelsea to Beacon on a rainy day without getting wet,” he says. It was around this time that Mattracion met Helen, the woman who would become his wife. Just teens when they met, the two were together until her death in 1984.
Mattracion cast bricks at Brockway until it closed in 1960, then worked in maintenance at IBM until retiring in 1984 at age 65. He also worked as a handyman for St. Joachim–St. John Roman Catholic Church, where he still attends Mass.
Mattracion served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945, transporting soldiers aboard the USS Makassar Strait to and from combat zones in Okinawa and Iwo Jima. He survived a bombing on the Makassar and participated in the invasion by the Allied Forces of Sicily in 1943. On the way home after the war ended, a shipmate offered Mattracion a job with an upstart frozen food company, but it would have required moving his family south.
“I said no; I want to go home,” Mattracion says. His daughter quickly adds: “The guy’s name was Swanson.”
Mary Ann, who graduated from Beacon High School in 1972, says she has nothing but fond memories of growing up in Beacon. “Everybody knew everybody,” she says, “and nobody locked their doors. It was a great place.”
Number of Americans aged 100 or older
1 in 10
Odds that a 50-year-old will live until 2069
1 in 3
Odds that a newborn will live until 2119
People worldwide who are 110 or older
Number who have reached 115
Number of 115-year-olds alive today
Percentage increase in U.S. centenarians since 2000
Percentage of U.S. centenarians who are women
Percentage who are white
Japan, France, U.K., Sweden
Countries with most centenarians per capita
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics; U.S. Census Bureau; United Nations; Office of National Statistics (U.K.)
The family moved around the city, living on Verplanck Avenue and Kent Street before settling in a home on North Chestnut Street. Mattracion once built a house by hand on Red Schoolhouse Road, but his wife vetoed that move. “At that time that was the woods,” he recalls. “She didn’t want to live out in the woods.”
After retiring, Mattracion remained busy with odd jobs while continuing to bowl, chop wood and stay active well into his 90s. “He’s probably healthier than me,” Mary Ann says. “He’s a good man, and we were very lucky our whole lives. We always had whatever we needed.”
The family remains close, with most relatives, including another daughter, within a two-hour drive. A son, Phil, died in combat in Vietnam in 1967. A second son, Ralph, died five years ago.
One of Mattracion’s most charming stories involves the 1994 film Nobody’s Fool, which was filmed, in part, in Beacon. A friend convinced Mattracion — who, in his mid-70s, was not an aspiring actor — to audition for the role of a maintenance worker. Mattracion was a finalist but did not land the part.
The reason he didn’t get it? He says he was told he looked too much like the movie’s star, Paul Newman.
A “dull life,” indeed.
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