ORANGE, NJ — Longtime Elks Lodge 135 member Matt Mulligan celebrated his 83rd birthday on Tuesday, Sept. 20, and then he and the other members of his Irish-American clan took a trip to Texas.
“I feel good,” said Mulligan on Saturday, Sept. 17, during the Orange Elks annual picnic fundraiser at the lodge on Main Street. “I’m going to Texas … I’m going to my granddaughter’s wedding.”
Despite his longevity, Mulligan said he still hasn’t figured out the secret to living a long life, let alone immortality. But his friend, Jim Cowan of West Orange Elks Lodge 1590, said he knows what it is.
“Drink good booze,” said Cowan on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Elks Lodge 135 annual picnic. “The way to know who the Elks are and what we’re all about is to join the Elks and find out. A lot of people don’t know the extent of the things that we do: veterans; special needs children, such as we’re doing today; youth activities; community support. Within West Orange, we support Holy Trinity Church, P.A.L., football, baseball, mountain Youth League, high school scholarships. We do a lot. Join and find out.”
Cowan said West Orange Elks Lodge 1590 is located on Main Street, like the Orange Elks Lodge 135, but at the other end of the street. He said they are sister lodges.
“We’re all buddies; we help each other out,” said Cowan. “That’s what Elks do; everybody helps one another. And that’s what it’s all about — volunteerism and help. And dig into your pocket to help, too. You got to do a lot of that.”
Cowan said he’s proud to know Mulligan and he’s glad he’s still around to celebrate his 83rd birthday and keep the Mulligan family tradition of membership and involvement with the Elks organization going moving into the future.
“I’ve known Mattie for a good 15 years now; I’ve worked with him in the Elks and I think it’s great, when you get the family to carry on, such as his son, (who) has been the exalted ruler here, and you got your grandson involved, too,” said Cowan. “It’s great. A lot of Elks do that. It’s generation to generation. Son follows father and grandson follows that father. It’s great.”
Mulligan’s sons, Matt Jr. and Dan, and grandson, Ryan all agreed with Cowan, but described their involvement as being a product of Orange pride, taught by Mulligan Sr.
“My father was Santa Claus on the fire truck every year,” said Dan Mulligan on Saturday, Sept. 17. “All the stuff, my father’s done. My father’s done a lot in town, stuff that I never knew about.
“A friend of mine, Frank Reali, says to me: ‘Dan, I’ll never forget your father for one reason — when my parents and I came from Italy, I lived on Park Avenue and went to Park Avenue School and I never ate lunch. And your father used to come up to me and say, “Frank, why aren’t you eating lunch?” and I would say: “Because I don’t have any money, Mr. Mulligan,” and your father would give me a dime to buy lunch.’”
Dan Mulligan added that now, “Frank owns Rah-Rah’s, Cafe Sport on the corner of Mechanic Street and Lincoln Avenue. … It’s where we grew up. You made friends that — regardless if you’re white, black, Puerto Rican, Uruguayan — it didn’t matter, back when we were growing up. I’m still friends with those people today.”
Matt Mulligan Jr. said that pride comes from being born in Orange and raised by a father such as his dad. And he agreed that true Orange pride transcends differences such as race, gender, ethnicity and religion.
“I was born and raised in Orange; I graduated from Orange High School; and though I live in West Orange now, I’m still here in Orange now as a member of the Orange Elks Lodge and still supporting the city of Orange,” said Matt Mulligan Jr. on Saturday, Sept. 17. “Our roots are here. We still have a lot of support here and a lot of friends, people that I graduated high school with and people that have just handed down through the generations. I’m 57 and guys that were my friends that I played ball with in high school, now their kids are out and our kids are out and we just want to carry on the good name of Orange.”
Matt Mulligan Jr. said this love for Orange comes from his father, which is why his 83rd birthday is a big deal to the family, the Elks extended family and the entire extended Orange community.
“My dad’s a Korean War vet,” he said Saturday, Sept. 17. “My dad worked in the Orange school system for at least 35 years. … He worked for the NJEA for many, many years and retired from the city of Orange. My father’s … probably one of the top three living Orange elks that are here right now, if not the top. He’s over a 45-year member.”
Matt Mulligan Jr. said he graduated from Orange High in 1977, after playing football and other sports at the school. He said, thanks to his father, his ties to the city are as deep as his dad’s and that is a very good thing.
“Bottom line is this: If I could think of a hero in my life, he’s my hero,” said Matt Mulligan Jr. “There’s nobody more of a hero than my dad to me. He’s an amazing man. He made a contribution to his community.”
Matt Mulligan Sr. said he has contributed to the Orange community because it was his home and it was the right thing to do. And he said the same thing applies to the Elks Lodge 135.
“I joined the Elks for the camaraderie and the members. We did a lot of good things for a lot of people — the handicapped, which is very big, and everything in general that you had to do with the children and the community,” said Matt Mulligan Sr. on Saturday, Sept. 17. “You work hard to improve everything; improve your lodge and your standing in the community with the people, and it makes you feel good to do things like this for people and for everybody.
“There’s not enough Orange pride today. Orange Pride is a lot of pride in what you do within the town, what you do for the people. I worked for the schools for 42 years as a custodian in the various schools and I enjoyed it.”