CENTERVILLE, Ohio (WDTN) — So often, we find ourselves wishing we had the opportunity to tell people how much they meant to us.

Many times, the realization comes too late.

The family of one former Miami Valley educator wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to their dad.

Frank Mattia spent decades serving the children of the Miami Valley. He was the principal of Incarnation School from the early 70s until the mid 90s, and went on to open several daycares.

“It was a real memorable part of my life,” Frank told 2 NEWS.

But as so often happens, many of those he impacted never had the chance to tell him what he meant to them.

Until this week.

Frank’s daughters planned a huge 80th birthday bash for him at Marion’s Piazza in Centerville.

But this was more than just pizza and cake. They also invited his former students to come out and say hello.

“He just is an amazing person,” daughter Christina Houck said. “And I’m just so touched that so many people even online from incarnation reached out from the 70s and beyond and said he’s amazing and he’s touched my life.”

For Frank, seeing all those familiar faces was a huge surprise.

“I thought it was just going to be family you know,” Frank said. “It lifts your spirit you know. So you don’t feel 80.”

For the first time, Frank got a glimpse into the lives he’s impacted over his decades in education.

“You stand back and you look at them and you say… if I touched them in some way, I did my job,” Frank said.

“Getting to see people come out and celebrate him from the community means a whole lot to me,” said his niece, Latonya Pendergrass. “It gives me a whole ‘nother perspective about my uncle that I didn’t even know. I mean, I knew he was big time. But he really is. He’s the guy.”

The guy… a rock for both the community and his family.

“To our family he’s the cornerstone,” said daughter Michelle Stoffregen. “Loving. Kind. Funny. Compassionate. He’s a jokester. Loves to make people laugh.”

Frank is thankful for those he’s laughing with as he heads into his 80th year.

“I’m so glad that they could make it,” Frank said. “So glad I could make it.”

Dozens of people made it out to the birthday party, but even more shared their memories of Frank and well wishes for him in a Facebook group for Incarnation School like the following:

Happy Birthday!! I always remember you as a great disciplinarian with a heart of gold!! You were an inspiration for me!!

Facebook user

Happy Birthday Mr. Mattia! You were such a great, compassionate principal, a real asset to Incarnation and students.

Facebook user