Interview by SHARON BUSHELL
(Published: November 16, 2003)
Maxine wastes no words. Always articulate, always with a question, always with an idea; her every comment is well thought out. Once inside the Reed home, you are ushered into the kitchen or the living room, where you and Maxine then hold forth on whatever your business concerns. In my case, it was to hear a bit of her life story.
The Reeds' daughter, Pauline, was there, as was Maxine's husband, Frank. There was quite a bit of hubbub going on, as guests were expected for dinner and it was closing in on late afternoon.
Maxine, feeling a bit under the weather, was stationed in an easy chair. After hugs and questions about my trip up the Kenai, the condition of the road, my family, etc., we got down to work. Within a short time, Mary Jean McManamin and LaRue Hellenthal dropped by to say hello to their old friend. With four women crowded around, all eager to hear Maxine's stories, there was frequent laughter, much of it loud and long, so that Frank had to continually leave his desk to join in the fun. -- Sharon Bushell
I was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1911. My dad was quite a brilliant man who could not tie himself to an everyday routine job. Consequently, my mother -- with three children -- returned to teaching. She truly loved teaching, and her students loved her.
I graduated from Ilwaco High School at the mouth of the Columbia River. I then attended Wilson Modern Business College, finishing the secretarial course in a year. For the next six years I attended the University of Washington nearly full time.
Life on campus was great fun. I pledged Alpha Gamma Delta, joining a high school friend. After four years, I moved to a nice boardinghouse where my brother lived.
Betty Benson, my longtime friend, was being married to Harold Runstad from Petersburg, and I was to be a bridesmaid. On Saturday, I picked up my beautiful, dramatic gown and returned home to try it on. Suddenly, the doorbell downstairs rang. I opened the door to see ... guess who? Frank Reed. He was inquiring as to whether he and his friends from next door could join the boarding arrangement.
Immediately thereafter, he called his Juneau friend Dick Radelett and suggested that Dick come for dinner at the boardinghouse because there was a beautiful, tall girl that would be just right for him. When Dick didn't show, Frank said to Bill Chandler, "I guess I'll have to marry her."
One sunny football Saturday, I was studying with my window open when I saw Frank and Bill leaving. I called out, "Have a good time." They urged me to join them. I said I was meeting a girlfriend later. Frank answered, "Well, if you won't come with us, will you at least marry me?" I told him, "Beginning tonight, I'm calling all bluffs."
At the end of the evening meal, as we arose to leave, Frank said to me, "We've got that little matter to take care of. I even invited the other Alaskans to join us." I got into the spirit of things, suggesting we drive to a place which had a familiar sign in its window proclaiming, "A gift for every bride." We were curious as to what that gift might be.
Finally, I had to admit I had an 8 o'clock date, and Frank and I agreed to think about this marriage idea more the next day. After a hamburger at our favorite place, Broomes, we returned to the boardinghouse, where Frank and I sat in the car talking until 3 a.m.
Soon after I accepted his marriage proposal, a couple of Frank's Alaska friends, Harry Bowman and Asa Martin, came to see me dressed in heavy gear -- shoe packs and hats with big brims and mosquito netting -- saying, "You'll have to get used to this, Maxine. This is how we all dress in Alaska."
Frank and I were married just as we finished college. We then came to Alaska, to Eklutna, where Frank was stationed as an operator with the power plant, of which his father was president. We really enjoyed living at Eklutna. Those were wonderful years. I loved Alaska right away, as I had been told again and again I would.
Frank was transferred to the power plant in Anchorage, and shortly after that he was approached to apply for a commission in the Navy. They needed someone who knew the city, and of course Frank had grown up here; his parents had owned the Anchorage Hotel. He remained in the Navy for almost four years.
Anchorage was and still is a town where everybody pitches in when someone needs help. Being the new kid in town and being the sort of person who enjoys organizing things, someone suggested that I be given some additional responsibility in terms of emergency situations. Nothing major, you understand, just a background player, helping behind the scenes.
One night there was quite a large fire on Fourth Avenue, and my orders included supplying plenty of fluids for the firefighters. I got in touch with a grocery store owner, and he put together a box of liquids. We borrowed a can opener from a nearby restaurant and sent the box up to the fighting line. I understand that one of the firemen opened a can and shouted, "Good grief! This is grapefruit juice!" They were expecting beer!
I frequently got calls from people who were seeking advice in the realm of social problems. I would help them find resources in town or Outside, if necessary. Either that or I knew someone who could. Through the years I became quite involved with a wide range of things such as the Mental Health Association and PTA.
One of the other PTA parents, Guy Burch, and I were concerned for our children, because after a certain time of evening, there wasn't much for kids to do -- no late movies or bowling or anything like that. So we persuaded the PTA at West High School -- the only high school then -- into sponsoring an all-night chaperoned graduation party. It was very successful. All the parents cooperated, and I think it led to a more open view of how we could provide healthy entertainment for our children.
I think perhaps my biggest contribution in Anchorage was in co-establishing and working with Cotillion Club. It was a private group that organized semiformal dances for members throughout the year. Many middle-aged people who now live in Anchorage recall being forced to take dance lessons in order to participate. I am pleased to report that the Cotillion Club is still in existence.
One time my friend Miriam Hilscher needed help with a fund-raiser for Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University). They planned to raise money at a dance by selling specially donated articles yet to be determined. She needed more publicity and told me to put on my boots and go to the city dump to select the mystery auction items. I clomped around with the operator and picked out various and sundry items, all functional junk.
Some kids had come with me, and we found a trunk full of comic books, the covers of which had been returned for credit. The dump operator delivered everything to the hotel ballroom, and every item fetched a good price, even the fire truck fenders. We also auctioned the comic books, so the whole experience was a complete success and a lot of fun. I ended up buying the trunk, which I dearly loved and is now treasured by Frank Jr.'s family.
One time a close friend told me, "Maxine, I've never seen you take on a project that wasn't a total success." I thought about it a day or two, then called her and said, "You know, it's not me that makes these things work. I only take on a project if it is truly needed. Once you know that the need is there, it becomes easy, because there are always good people to help you."
My friends tell me I should mention my attic, which apparently has gotten rather famous over the years. It seemed that whenever someone needed to have a purple sash or a feather boa or a hat with flowers, it was always "Let's ask Maxine; I'll bet she as it in her attic. She has everything up there."
I've been trying for months to get the attic cleaned out, but every time I bring two things down I take three up, so -- just like my life -- it will probably always be full.
Sharon Bushell lives and writes in Homer. Her books, "We Alaskans" and "We Alaskans II," feature her stories about Alaska pioneers that have appeared in the Daily News. For more information, visit her Web site at www.wealaskans.com.
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