By Nathan Duke
Barragan, 65, was awarded Ecuador's National Order Award of Merit from the country's president, Alfredo Palacio, in a ceremony at the 1-800 Mattress warehouse on 48th Avenue in Long Island City. Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, presented the award to the mattress mogul.”This is a very proud moment for me, my family and the employees of 1-800 Mattress,” Barragan said. “Despite all the other accolades I have achieved throughout my life, there is nothing more heartwarming than being honored by one's native country.”Barragan was born the son of a farmer in Bilovan, Ecuador, but left for Colombia in his early 20s to teach. But in 1969, he moved with his family to the United States and worked at factory jobs in plastics, carpeting and shoe manufacturing. In 1975, he and his family opened a small furniture store in Jamaica, which would later become his $170 million 1-800 Mattress corporation.Barragan was scheduled to receive his nation's prestigious award in Ecuador in mid-July, but his son, Luis Barragan, 34, drowned on July 7 in a Connecticut lake while on vacation. Luis Barragan, who was the head of his father's company and lived in Douglaston, was mourned by hundreds of friends and family members at the funeral last summer.Chiriboga said Barragan was only the third Ecuadorian native in New York to receive the merit award. “It's a very rare occasion Ð (the award) is not given lightly,” he said. “It's a recognition of what an Ecuadorian who came to the U.S. with will power is capable of doing.”Barragan was honored at the ceremony not only for the creation of his company, but also for charity work. The founder and CEO announced the establishment of a foundation to be named after his children, which will benefit organizations that provide health screening and on-site surgery for children with special needs in Latin American countries.1-800 Mattress employs 350 city residents, of which more than 60 percent are Hispanics, Barragan said. The company has 104 locations in New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut and Maryland. Four stores are in Queens.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.