After 26 years with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, Executive Director Dick Mattia is announcing his retirement. Mattia’s final day will be Friday, October 31st.
Mattia began working with the American Heart Association on May 2, 1988 as division director for Chenango, Delaware, and Otsego counties, and became executive director in 2000.
Michael Weamer, executive vice president of the Founder’s Affiliate of the American Heart Association, praised Mattia’s work, saying, “Dick Mattia has served as a tireless force in our life-saving business within Utica, and beyond. Dick has been an amazing partner to the many local volunteers who make regional magic, creating event success that is admired across both our Founders Affiliate, and the American Heart Association, nationally.”
Mattia has seen the organization, the events, and the community evolve over the past two and a half decades.
In 1988, Utica’s signature event – America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk – was a much smaller event than it is today. There was no walk component, and it only drew about 1,300 people. Mattia says adding that walk component is one of the biggest changes he has seen over 26 years.
“We opened up the event to a bigger audience,” Mattia remembers. “We became a total community organization instead of only appealing to runners.” America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk now draws approximately 9,000 participants.
Under Mattia’s leadership as executive director, in 2000, America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk became the first Heart Walk in the country to raise $1 million.
“It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, not for myself, but for everyone involved as an organization and as a community,” says Mattia.
During the years the Utica event was ranked #1 in Heart Walk fundraising across the American Heart Association, Mattia says people often asked him how he might feel if larger communities surpassed that total.
“If we are still successful,” he says, “but others are more successful, everyone in the country will benefit from all the things the American Heart Association could do with that additional funding, like more public education and more lifesaving research.”
While bigger cities have now surpassed the fundraising from America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, the event continues to be a consistently successful, community-driven event. Many volunteers have been involved in the event over the years, including current Utica advisory board chairman Steve Gassner.
“Working with Dick for the past seven years for America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, his dedication to the event and his attention to detail was second to none,” Gassner praised.
The Utica area also led the pack when it came to women’s heart health. Before there was the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women® movement, Utica had its own event focused on women’s health.
“Twenty-six years ago women’s heart health wasn’t a focus. We started slowly bringing attention to it. We’re doing a lot more now on awareness for women and heart disease than we were years ago,” Mattia says.
No matter what the event or the cause has been, Mattia says the true constant has been the dedication of the volunteers.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is that the American Heart Association is still a very volunteer-driven organization. That was the case 26 years ago and it still is today. The volunteers continue to make us a success,” he says. “I’m so grateful to the community for always getting involved.”
While Mattia has been an integral part of the American Heart Association for many years, he knows the lifesaving work will go on after he leaves.
“There will come a time when people say ‘Dick Mattia who?’ and that won’t be a bad thing,” he laughs. “That will mean positive things have happened since I retired.”
Mattia plans to continue his volunteer work with other community organizations, including the Boilermaker Road Race, as well as joining the ranks of American Heart Association volunteers. Senior Director of Development Jennifer Balog will take over as executive director as of November 1st.