His life was a dance

June 13, 2004|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Starting today and continuing each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back at a member of the community who died in the past week through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Frank Edward Mattax, who died June 6 at the age of 91. His obituary appeared in the June 7 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

Though his gait was slowing and his legs had weakened with age, Frank Edward Mattax still danced with all five of his granddaughters at their weddings.

Mattax, who died June 6 at the age of 91, will be remembered by his family and friends for his love of music and dance, and of life in general.

"When the music started, Dad just stepped back in time," said eldest son, Edward, 62, as he and his two remaining sisters shared stories of their father this week. "It took him forever to get up there, but when he started dancing, he was a different man."


In a picture from granddaughter Kimberly Myers' wedding in 1995, "Pap" - as he was known to all of his grandchildren - seemed to be at his peak, dressed in wedding finery, effortlessly leading his very special partner around the dance floor.

And in another photo nearly 40 years earlier, Mattax was pictured dancing with his late wife, Birdie, who passed away in 1985.

As they gathered to remember their father, Edward Mattax and his sisters, Eileen Andrews and Christine Miller, saw their childhoods spill out in pictures, first as babies and then youngsters in Washington, Pa., and later in Hagerstown.

Christine said she could almost see her father clipping pictures from Life magazine about birds, Indians and other subjects and carefully mounting them in leather-bound notebooks.

"Whenever I had a project for school, I'd always get an 'A' because Dad would have the pictures to go with my reports," she said.

Eileen always knew how important music was in the Mattax house when she was growing up.

"'The Lawrence Welk Show' came on television, the furniture went back and we danced," she said. "Dad taught all the girls to dance."

Those talents weren't limited to the family. Mattax served as ballroom dance instructor for Hagerstown Community College classes held at St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown for many years. He also was the originator of the Golden Ballroom Dancers, a group of senior adults, 60 years of age and older, who loved the big-band era style of dancing.

"He only had eight couples when he started that group, but it grew into about 200," Eileen said.

That love of music and dancing continued even after Mattax moved into Broadmore Assisted Living at 1175 Professional Court.

"I last danced with Dad just two months ago," Eileen said. "Whenever he'd hear music, he wanted to dance with the staff there."

For 35 years, Mattax worked for Potomac Edison, retiring in 1977.

"He was always a suit-and-tie man at work and at home, too," Eileen said.

Though only in Hagerstown for the past nine years, the Rev. John Ailstock of The Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown said he quickly learned that Frank Mattax had been a pillar in the church.

"He served as an elder, a deacon and a Sunday school teacher," Ailstock said. "Well respected, he made many significant relationships over the years."

That respect followed Mattax throughout his life and even after his death a week ago.

"A lady came up to me after Dad died and she said how he was always a gentleman," Eileen said. "Dad would have liked that."

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