WASHINGTON, May 7 -
Sunday is Mother’s Day where we honor our Nation’s mothers. My mom is still alive. I got to know my grandmothers, both of them, until they died in their nineties, and my three daughters all have children.
But I want to talk about a mother that most Americans probably have never heard of. Her name was Mattie Ripkowski. Let me tell you a little bit about her and her family.
She was a first-generation, American born Polish immigrant. Back in the 1800s, the Polish community came into Texas through the Port of Galveston. They settled there while Texas was an independent country. In fact, some Poles fought at the Battle of San Jacinto where Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836.
Mattie Olbrich was born in 1896 in Texas. At the age of 17, she married Stash Ripkowski – both newlyweds – another small-town guy from New Waverly, Texas. They started raising a family, Mattie and Stash. And after several years, this was their family. Yes, Mattie Ripkowski had 16 children – 4 daughters and 12 sons. They were all born by natural childbirth with a midwife, except one. This whole family lived in southeast Texas on a small, 200-acre farm near Dayton, Texas.
Mattie – the mother, the wife – made sure that during the Depression all the kids never went hungry. She taught them the basics of life: true grit, a work ethic, a belief in the Almighty. They worked hard, everything from picking cotton to tending to animals to hauling corn. And every child was expected to do their work on the farm, which was self-sufficient.
When two of the Ripkowski boys got to be in high school, they were excellent football players. And you know, Mr. Speaker, Texas is known for its football teams all the way back to the 1800s. Two of them were so good that the local high school football coach, who knew that they had to work on the farm, had the school hire two farmers to take the sons place and work the farm. Then the two high school football stars could play for Dayton High School. Dayton is a small Texas town that loves football. The 5,500 people there that go to Friday night football, the stadium seats more than the entire population.
But anyway, back to the Ripkowskis. They never missed a meal. In fact, Mattie was so adamant about family that they all ate together three times a day. Now, can you imagine preparing a table three times a day for 18 people – 16 of them kids and 12 of them sons?
As the Depression ended, World War II came. And as World War II came, Mattie, having taught her kids service to America, all 12 of her sons joined the United States military. They served in all branches of the military. They served in either World War II or Korea, or both.
Every night, Mattie would write one of them a letter. She would say the Rosary every night for all 12. She would pray for all of her sons. Miraculously, all 12 of her sons who went to war for America came back. There has never been another family with that many sons from the same parents who joined the United States military. She instilled in them those important values of country, God, and family. The Ripkowski family is quite a remarkable clan of Texans.
Mrs. Ripkowski – Mattie, as they called her – her kids grew up to all marry. She knew all of their spouses and many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The fruits of Mattie Ripkowski’s labor produced honest, hardworking, God-fearing patriots.
One test of motherhood, Mr. Speaker, is how a mother’s kids turn out. Well, Mattie passed the test 16 times with her 16 children. They all turned out to be wonderful people. In fact, six of them are still alive. I had the opportunity recently at a dedication where we honored a Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor, by naming a post office for him. Some of her kids came out to that ceremony. The youngest, Anna Lee Campbell, who is now 80, and I talked about her family, about Mattie, about growing up with this remarkable woman. And she showed me numerous photographs of their family.
I was also there with one of the sons, Mike, who talked about their family, Polish immigrants, and how they have all turned out to be successful and how they fought for America. Before the conversation was over with Mike I asked him, “What did you call your mother all those many years?” He said, “Well, of course I called her mama, and I also called her ma’am.” No kidding.
Remarkable lady, Mattie Ripkowski. We honor her and all of America’s mothers this Sunday for their lives and dedication to motherhood.
And that’s just the way it is.