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99-year-old Holocaust survivor walks mall for 34 years

A 99-year-old Cheektowaga man's life journey has taken him from a work camp in World War II, to being the oldest mall-walker at the Walden Galleria.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — Mieczyslaw "Matt" Laba turned 99-years-old on March 9, and his entire life his favorite saying has been, "you have to keep moving."

For the past 34 years, since the first day the Walden Galleria opened in Cheektowaga, Mr. Laba has kept moving by walking the mall. 

"I cannot stand and wait for something. I've got my way and my feet go for itself," he told 2 On Your Side's Melissa Holmes. 

Since it was constructed in 1989, he's walked the mall twice a day, at least 6 days a week. 

"This became such a part of his life that things had to revolve around my father's mall walking," said his daughter, Suzanne Laba. "I used to come with him when I was younger. He would do the upper and the lower level. He used to do all the stairs. He used to do all the bridges. He always said there are 13 bridges. He knew the number of everything. And he would say the same thing to me as he says to anyone else, 'You cannot walk with me. You cannot talk to me. If you can't keep up with me, I have to keep going.' So that's the way it was."

When he stopped driving at age 96, family friend Louise Muscato became his driver and walking buddy.

"When I first started taking him he did every indentation of the upper level, twice a day and it would be about 45 minutes of non-stop walking. Now he's down to about a half hour. He cut out the indentations and the food court," Muscato explained. "I can't walk with him. I can't even walk next to him. I've got to walk behind him. He's focused and he just does his thing."

He's always walked in a zig-zag pattern because he says it works his core. 

"When he does his zigzags sometimes he'll cut people off but that's all right," said Muscato.

Muscato is a dedicated and helpful friend for taking him every morning and afternoon, but she says as a two-time cancer survivor, she is the one receiving a gift. 

"I need the exercise myself so it's a win-win. He's so dedicated and determined and inspiring," said Muscato. "I'm so glad I'm available to help him, because he hleps me in more ways than he knows. He really does. He's an inspiration to me." 

What's also inspiring is the journey Mr. Laba has walked for nearly a century.

"My father was in Poland when the actual Blitzkrieg happened, when Germany invaded Poland. My father at a very young age was taken to Germany in the the work camps. He learned German when he was working in the coal mines and one day he decided to escape," said Suzanne. 

Credit: Laba Family
Mieczyslaw Laba seen here as a young man.

His daughter said he worked for a carpenter in Germany for years before driving trucks for the US Army. He met his wife, owned store in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1956. The couple had 4 children, and Mr. Laba retired from Ford after 32 years. He lived independently until just several months ago. 

"He was always the man that said, 'I have a family to provide for I have to keep moving. I can't look back. Keep walking forward,'" said Suzanne. "My whole childhood my father has always been that man that has never let his family down. He's always taught us values and morals."

So he walks with a purpose, and with positivity, and uplifts passers-by.

"He's happy all the time and proud of his age. It's not the past. He's thinking of the future. He speaks about his next birthday," said fellow mall-walker Ted Koeth.

Muscato said he has a beautiful spirit and she's never heard him say a negative thing. Suzanne added, throughout his life, she never heard her father get angry.

"One of my favorite lines my father has taught me is you can walk forward and clear your head in peace, or you can walk in anger which will get you nowhere."

With a healthy mind and healthy body, as he celebrates his 99th birthday, Mr. Laba says he has no plans of slowing down any time soon. 

"I feel very very good. I just keep on moving," he said.

Besides the exercise, Mr. Laba has a few more keys to a long and happy life: every day drink a glass of wine, eat a garlic clove, and never argue.

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