Long-time Brainerd resident and poet, Maxine Klara Russell, age 100, passed away June 3, 2012, at Good Samaritan Society, Brainerd.
Maxine was born Feb. 17, 1912, (two months before the sinking of the Titanic) at her family home adjacent to her parent’s 22 Merriam Park Floral greenhouses on St. Anthony Avenue, St. Paul. Maxine was delivered in an unheated bedroom in the middle of a snowstorm that prevented the doctor from attending the birth. Therefore, an amateur midwife delivered Maxine. Maxine’s father, Maximilian Kaiser, immigrated to Minnesota from Krumbach, Bavaria, in 1906, followed by her mother, Klara Treubert, from Munich, Germany, in 1907, marrying in 1907 at Browerville.
Maxine grew up with her older sister, Beatrice Kaiser Klein, and brother, William Kaiser on the grounds of the family greenhouses and nursery. She attended St. Mark’s Parochial School, St. Benedict’s School for girls, St. Joseph, Minn., where she was already writing and publishing poetry at age 12. Maxine graduated from high school at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Paul and from the University of Minnesota, with a degree in Science Literature and the Arts in 1932 at age 20.
After graduating from the university, she joined the family business where she managed the retail flower shop of the floral company for 13 years until 1945, when she met her husband, Robert Lee Russell Jr., a Brainerd native and 1939 graduate of Brainerd High School. Robert and Maxine were married Oct. 2, 1946, at Church of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul. They settled in Golden Valley on a two-acre wooded lot adjacent to Theodore Wirth Park and raised two children. Upon retirement in 1972, they moved to Robert’s hometown of Brainerd, taking up residency on Gilbert Lake, and enjoying time with Robert’s parents, Margaret and Robert Lee Russell Sr.
Maxine wrote poetry all her life and loved theatre, books and the arts. In addition to numerous individual poems and short stories, she wrote the following books: “Leaves from a Greenhouse” (1984), “Honey in the Heart” (1987), “Jungle Angel: Bataan Remembered” (1988), “Searching for Star Trillium” (1997), “Hidden Light” (2006), and “Celebrating One Hundred” (2009).
At age 89, the League of Minnesota Poets chose Maxine as Poet Laureate from 1999-2004. The League gave the award not only for accomplishments in the writing of poetry, but also for active participation in fostering poetry at state and national levels by periodic appearances at area schools, rest homes, civic organizations, and festivals at neighboring towns, cities, and states.
She was a member of the Heartland Poets, Writer’s Alliance Brainerd Community College, Brainerd Garden Club, University of Minnesota Alumni Association, life member of Delta Zeta Sorority, St. Joseph’s Academy Alumnae Association (St. Paul), Crow Wing County Historical Society, the Brainerd branch of the American Association of University Women, member of National Collegiate Players and St. Francis Church.
Some memorable events Maxine experienced in her lifetime were the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic; WWI, in which one of her uncles was in the U.S. Army and another in the German Army; the dust bowl years; the Great Depression; and the Armistice Day Blizzard of Nov. 11, 1940, with 10-foot snowdrifts and the loss of 49 Minnesota lives due to the storm (many of these were hunters). Maxine met some of history’s famous people, including: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Lady Judith Guthrie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and Tennessee Williams. Some Minnesota notables were: Eugene and Abigail McCarthy, Hubert and Muriel Humphrey, Governors Elmer Benson and C. Elmer Anderson, Theodore Wirth, Jon Hassler and Carl Zappfe (writers), and Lt. Col. Hortense McKay (Bataan nurse).
Maxine was preceded in death by her parents; brother, William in 1943; and husband of nearly 60 years, Robert in 2005. She is survived by her sister, Beatrice Klein, of Davenport, Iowa; son, James Russell and wife, Sandy, of Sitka, Alaska; daughter, Roberta Fraser, of Brainerd; granddaughter, Sara Peterson and husband Dennis, of Sitka; grandson, Max Russell and wife Amanda, of Sitka; grandson, Dallas Fraser and wife Amy Faust, of Chanhassen; great-granddaughters, Payton, Callie and Anna Russell, all of Sitka; nephews, Thomas Klein, of Tampa, Fla., and John Klein, of Bettendorf, Iowa; and niece, Andrea Clifford, of Denver, Colo.
Maxine looked at life from a wonderfully positive point of view; always saw the good in people, enjoyed them and was grateful for what God provided. She said, “My life has been a rose garden. Now and then, of course, I’ve stepped in the manure, or ripped my nylons on the thorns. However, having been born in a “greenhouse,” I’ve been blessed with a greater knowledge of flowers and exposure to their beauty than the average person. My philosophy of life, formed in my early greenhouse years, has been to maintain a constant curiosity in nature and be grateful for the joy of living.”
The following excerpt from one of her poems about Minnesota sums up her love of the state:
I’ll miss you, Magnetic Minnesota
not such a bad place to die
near banks of the Great Mississippi
winding through the Evergreen Heartland
of our freshwater state.
I’ll miss those long winter nights
and short Bald Eagle Days
strummin’ my Hometown Blues.
Memorial contributions may be mailed to the Maxine Kaiser Russell Literary Scholarship fund at Central Lakes College, 501 West College Drive, Brainerd, MN 56401.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, June 9, 2012, at 9:30 a.m. at the Halvorson-Johnson Funeral Home. Maxine requested a private burial at Evergreen Cemetery. The family wishes to thank all her wonderful Minnesota friends and her Good Samaritan Society caregivers who all supported Maxine during her last years.