Robert Michael Matta, of Northfield, passed away on July 18, 2019 at the age of 86. Bob was born on the family truck farm in what is now Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on August 4, 1932. He was the sixth and youngest child of Slovak immigrants, Mike and Anna (Humenik) Matta, and the baby brother of five doting, older sisters who ranged in age between 8 and 18 years his senior. According to oft-told family lore, when Bob was born his father was so excited to finally have a son that he literally skipped across the fields to the neighbors yelling “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” in his native Slovak. Yes, Bob was spoiled!
It wasn’t too many years later that the family decided to give up truck farming and moved back to Minneapolis into a home they’d purchased in the “Seven Corners” neighborhood near Augsburg College. At home and with friends, Bob’s family spoke only Slovak. Even the family’s church was Slovakian and thus Bob was confirmed in Slovak with his Slovak Bible. It wasn’t until he started 1st grade that he learned English.
Despite having little money, especially after his father passed away when Bob was only 14, Bob had a wonderful childhood. His was an exceedingly close, crazy and fun-loving family— but the good kind of close, crazy and fun-loving. His sisters married wonderful men who readily stepped in after Bob’s father passed, helping to raise Bob and, most of the time, setting good examples and providing wise counsel for Bob. The large family often shared multi-generational housing, something Bob & Marilyn happily continued when Bob’s mother lived with them for 14 years. With the Mattas, family was always welcome, an invitation was never required, and another place could always be set at the dinner table!
Bob graduated from South High School in 1950. He attended the University of Minnesota for two years (intending to be a dentist) before joining the U.S. Navy just two days before the Army called to inform him he was being drafted. Bob trained to be an aircraft carrier pilot and served on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea. Following four years of active duty Bob received his first honorable discharge in 1956. He returned to Minneapolis and, on December 15, 1956, married Marilyn Paul at St. James Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
During the mid-1950s, Bob also began a career as a commercial pilot at United Airlines, later flying for Western Airlines and, finally, Northwest Airlines. In the late 50s and early 60s, Bob was caught up in layoffs, and, in 1962, he returned to active duty with the Navy as a transport pilot, evacuating wounded soldiers from Vietnam among many other duties. In 1965, upon his second honorable discharge from active duty, he returned to the Naval Reserves and to Northwest Airlines. All told, Bob spent 23 years in the Navy (7 years active duty) and retired in 1975 as a Navy Captain. While at Northwest Airlines, although Bob held various positions in the Training Department and as the Director of Flight Training, at heart he was first and foremost a “Line Pilot.” He retired from Northwest in 1992 after 33 years.
Due to Bob’s Navy and airline careers, Bob and Marilyn made their home in many places around the United States and Japan before finally settling down in 1976 on an old, circa 1873 farm west of Northfield. It was there that Bob began his 3rd career as a grain farmer, tending 176 acres of tillable land. After 20+ years in the fields, Bob retired from active farming.
Bob adored his wife, Marilyn, as well as their four children, eight grandchildren and their great-grandson. He loved flying; farm life; rebuilding and restoring classic cars; dancing, entertaining and traveling with Marilyn; winters in Tucson, AZ; and his fun-loving and close-knit extended family and friends. He was a long-time member of St. John’s Lutheran Church. Bob never turned down a party invitation, a second helping, or a dance with his wife. He told a fabulous story and loved to laugh.
Bob is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marilyn; their daughters Lori (Abraham) Middeldorp, Lynn Matta, Michele (Nathan) Knutson; son Bryan Matta; eight grandchildren: Katerina (Dave Flynn) and Alexandra Middeldorp; Matthew, Will, Seth and Genevieve Knutson; Doug (Ashley Sodergren) and Robert Matta; one great-grandson, Dominic Matta; and many dear relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, sisters and their husbands: Mary & Joe Hudak; Ann & George Mital; Helen & Tony Smentek; Dorothy & Einar Mattson; and Millie & Norm Hansen.
If desired, memorials are preferred to Laura Baker Services Association, Epic Enterprise, or St. John’s Lutheran Church, all of Northfield.