‘True love story’: Woman dies on couple’s 68th anniversary, husband hours later
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Every night, Maria and Simon Mata together would read their favorite psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd,” they’d say. “I shall not want.” When their eyesight dimmed with age, they’d recite it by heart.
This weekend, they will be memorialized with a joint funeral. Their children plan to include the 23rd Psalm in the service.
The Matas died within hours of each other last weekend — in the same room and the same bed, at Prairie Manor nursing home in Chicago Heights.
Mrs. Mata died around 6:30 p.m. Saturday — which was the couple’s 68th wedding anniversary.
Relatives and nursing home staffers say that, after her death, her husband said in Spanish, “I’m coming, mamacita.” The next day, he died around 2:15 p.m., according to their daughter Ruth Newbury.
She was 90, he 95.
Native Texans, they had lived for many years in Chicago Heights.
The Matas’ lives focused on their Christian faith and family. They raised four girls and two boys and lived to see nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.
“They were really simple people,” their daughter said. “They didn’t want a lot or need a lot. Their life pretty much revolved around their church and being good to each other. They wanted us to get along, to appreciate our differences, to appreciate that everyone is different.”
In the couple’s later years, “He kept going because he just didn’t want to leave her alone,” the daughter said. When both were in wheelchairs, “He would make sure her needs would be met.”
If Mrs. Mata said she wasn’t hungry, he’d encourage her, saying, “You have to eat, mamacita.”
Nursing home staffers called them “a true love story.”
“They were adorable together,” one said.
Mrs. Mata died in the bed next to her husband’s. Afterward, there was a problem with Mr. Mata’s hospital bed, according to their daughter, so “they actually put him in my mom’s bed. So he actually died in the same bed.”
As soon as Mr. Mata was told his wife had died, he seemed to decline. “I think he was waiting for my mom to pass so he wouldn’t have to worry about her,” their daughter said.
Mrs. Mata was born Maria Flores in Taft, Texas. Mr. Mata was born in Dilley, Texas. They met in the town square of Cotulla in La Salle County, Texas, where the clerk’s office on Wednesday confirmed their Jan. 5, 1951, wedding day.
Families would go to the town square to socialize and listen to music, young people mingling under the watchful eyes of parents and grandparents.
“She caught the eye of some of the boys and my father in particular,” Newbury said of her mother.
After the Matas got married and moved to Chicago Heights, the couple worked hard, and they encouraged their children to do the same.
“They were very adamant about having a job, keeping a job and doing the very best you could in a job,” their daughter said. “He believed when you didn’t do a good job, somebody else suffered.”
At 65, Mr. Mata retired from Thrall Car Manufacturing Co., a maker of rail cars, where he’d been a machine operator.
“They would sit and read the Bible every night,” Newbury said. “For 68 years, that was part of their routine. No matter how tired they were, they would read the Bible.”
They both loved hymns. Mr. Mata, who was a deacon at First Spanish Baptist Church in Chicago Heights, “was involved in the musical direction. I would always hear him singing hymns,” their daughter said. “I would hear my mother singing in the basement doing laundry.”
Mrs. Mata “always made sure we had nice clean clothes and good meals,” according to Newbury, who said her mother made delicious menudo — tripe soup — and cinnamon-infused capirotada — a bread pudding. And when Mrs. Mata made a big dish of beef enchiladas or fluffy Spanish rice, “She would put out the call, and everyone would come running.”
In addition to their daughter Ruth and grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, the Matas are survived by three other daughters, Emma Williams, Anita Rodriguez and Juanita Stogsdill; sons Jose and Simon Mata Jr.; and Mrs. Mata’s sisters Jesusa, Antonia and Esperanza and brothers Alcario, Jose, Reymundo, Marcos and Juan.
Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home, 530 W. 14th St., Chicago Heights. A funeral service is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Panozzo Brothers, with burial at Skyline Memorial Park in Monee.
“To me, they weren’t extraordinary,” Ruth Newbury said. “To me, they’re what parents do.”