Sitting at a table stacked with presents and flowers, Henderson resident Matilda “Mattie” Kunz was the center of attention among friends and family.
Sporting a sparkling crown, Kunz was treated as royalty as she celebrated her 100th birthday Aug. 4 at Prestige Assisted Living, 1050 E. Lake Mead Parkway.
The community came together for the special occasion by donating a cake, makeover and venue. Kunz also received recognition from Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen.
“There’s no secret. Just love everyone and love life,” Kunz said. “No matter how old you are, never give up. You just might make it to 100, too.”
Born on Aug. 5, 1914, Kunz grew up in Milwaukee. She spent her childhood bonding with her two brothers, according to her son, George Kunz.
“When her brothers joined the military, she left high school to support her family,” George said. “Her brothers were very important to her. She made certain they got a college education even if she couldn’t.”
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mattie joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at 27.
“I was at work when I heard about the bombing, and I felt the need to do something about it,” Mattie said. “I told them I was leaving, so I gave my two weeks and joined the military.”
She was one of the first women to join in the Military Police Corps and also served in Germany after World War II to ensure that the bodies of U.S. soldiers returned home respectfully, according to George.
“She did all this without a high school diploma,” he said. “She’s excelled in everything, partially out of pride but mostly out of necessity.”
Mattie gave birth to George, 67, in Fort Sheridan, Ill., and soon moved west to take care of her parents. George describe her as the family’s “breadwinner.”
“She was the head of the household,” he said. “She has always taken care of her family. She was always putting herself second, and when I was born, she put herself third.”
George said money was tight growing up, but his mother found ways to make it work.
“She once went a whole year without eating lunch just so she could save up to buy him a bike,” said George’s wife, Mary Sue. “She really did all she could for him.”
Mattie worked in the retail and banking industries before retiring and moving to Henderson around 1990 to be closer to George.
She eventually earned her high school diploma in her late 50s, living up to the advice she gave George.
“When I joined the high school football team, I didn’t know if I was good enough to keep playing or if I should quit,” George said. “She told me, ‘If you or anyone else starts something, you better darn well finish it.’ I’ve always lived by that piece of advice.”
During her life, Mattie has experienced the birth and expansion of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, World Wars I and II, the ratification of seven amendments to the U.S. Constitution and 17 presidents.
She’s seen President John F. Kennedy assassinated, the rise of the Internet and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.
“Any time she heard the national anthem, she would get a little teary-eyed,” George said. “She’s proud to be an American.”
Mattie planned to celebrate her actual birthday with George and her grandson Matthew.
“When you talk about service, that’s my mother,” George said. “She served her country, served her family, and I’m just delighted we have the opportunity to serve her now.”
Contact Henderson View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.