Vickroy: For 60 years, friends meet for Sunday breakfast
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy September 26, 2012 4:46PM
Americo and Leonora Mattio (left) host a weekly breakfast at their home in Steger Sunday, September 23, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:13AM
Inside the ranch home of Americo and Leonora Mattio, friends gather around the china-covered dining table, where pecan rolls, sausage quiche and the problems of the world have been served up every Sunday morning for the past 60 years.
“This is about friendship,” Leonora said, passing a plate of powdered sugar-dusted fanky. “We love being together. We enjoy each other’s company.”
And, they admit, they need each other’s company. The older they get, the more important friendship becomes, Leonora said.
Over the years, the world has changed again and again, and the breakfast club has pondered, celebrated and dissected those changes around this very table, over bottomless cups of coffee and sticky buns so tasty you can’t stop at one.
Wars, peace, television, computers. Friendship has seen them through the hard times and made the good times that much sweeter. Now, firmly planted in their golden years, they cling tight to their relationships because they realize how fragile those ties have become.
They laugh at the antics of their grandchildren, comfort those who have health issues or have lost a family member and worry about the problems in the Middle East.
The participants are or were longtime residents of Chicago Heights; all attend St. Paul Catholic Church.
Leonora, 85, and Americo, 89, used to live a few doors down from the church, where Leonora used to play the organ at the 8 a.m. Mass.
Afterward, it seemed natural to head to the Mattios’ for coffee and conversation.
“In those days, we just served toast, from an old-fashioned toaster,” Leonora said.
A lot has changed over the past six decades, the menu included.
For one, the 8 a.m. service was moved to 10. For another, after the Mattios started having trouble climbing stairs, they decided to move into a single-level house in Steger, about three miles away.
“They worried what would happen to their Sunday morning get-togethers,” their daughter, Lee Troy, said.
They shouldn’t have. The breakfast club started attending Saturday evening Mass. That way, they could maintain their Sunday morning get-togethers at the Mattios’ new home.
“We all take care of each other,” said Dorothy Ambrosini, 76, a breakfast regular who sings in the St. Paul choir.
Steffie Klimas, 88, who lost her husband in July, doesn’t drive, so Ann Matus, 86, picks her up. Ann’s sister, Helen Gereg, 90, also is a regular. Their little brother, Joey, was the first child baptized at St. Paul, way back in 1929.
During the gatherings, which can range from six to 12 partakers and last anywhere from one to three hours, personal problems are solved, world issues discussed and everyone is updated on each other’s children and grandchildren, of which there seemingly are too many to count.
Many of those children still live or work in “the Heights.” The Mattios’ son, Dave, is athletic director at Marian Catholic High School. Their daughter, Lee, is a special-education case manager at Washington School.
“Our kids grew up with this, and now they’re all friends, too,” Steffie Klimas said. “Even the children who don’t live nearby keep tabs on their peers.”
Leonora, who knows the birthdays and anniversary dates of just about every adult, child and grandchild in the club, said she developed a love for hosting breakfast from her mother.
“It’s just something that we have always, always done,” she said. She and Ann Matus went to school together. Even as kids, they would get together for breakfast on Sunday mornings.
Until he was transferred to Christ the King Church in Chicago, the Rev. Tom Conde joined the group.
“When he sat down at this table, his collar was turned around and he became one of us,” Americo said.
Americo, who drove a South Suburban Safeway bus (now Pace) for 44 years, going 3 million miles without a preventable accident, met Leonora while on the job.
“One day, she got on board and I gave her an apple — like Adam and Eve,” he said.
Leonora fell for him, despite her mother’s concerns.
“Her mother used to say about me, ‘Pity the woman who marries him,’ ” Americo said.
“Yeah, he was a rascal in those days,” Leonora said.
They dated a couple of years and were married in 1947 at St. Paul’s. They recently celebrated their 65th anniversary there as well.
The couple went on to have five children, 21 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
In addition to making breakfast every Sunday, Leonora bakes for all the family weddings and celebrations. Americo is a talented cook as well, preparing a big dinner each Christmas.
For 61 years, Leonora played the organ at St. Paul’s. She says she is just part of a long tradition of church volunteers.
On Nov. 4, she will be honored for her many years of service to the Catholic community during a special reception at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
The way she sees it, she’s honored every Sunday when people gather ’round her table to celebrate the simple joy of friendship.
“We look forward to this,” Ann Matus said. “Even in bad weather. We wake up Sunday morning and say, ‘Time to go to the Mattios’.’ ”