PAWNEE ROCK — There were few things Maxine Foster prized more than a good homegrown, vine-ripened Kansas tomato, except maybe farm fresh eggs, a good stand of wheat, family around her kitchen table and maybe her two constant companions in later life – pet dogs, Muffy and Gizmo.
Some people say so-and-so was a last of a kind. Well, Maxine Foster was exactly that – the last woman standing. She was a survivor who weathered all of life’s storms – blizzards, droughts, floods, failed crops, Dust Bowl storms and the deaths of many of the people she dearly loved.
Maxine Brannan Foster, bookkeeper, homemaker, farmer, and baker of the most delectable lemon meringue pies died Saturday, May 25, in her home. She was 93 years old.
There will be no funeral service nor big to-dos, as was her specific wishes, which she made clear many times to many people.
She was born Sept. 13, 1919 in Pawnee County, the third of four children born to Earl and Effie Logan Brannan.
Like many Kansas farm children who grew up in that era, the family was poor. And so, a young Maxine Brannan learned to make do with what she had—sticks were used as pencils to draw in the dirt. She and her siblings played and ran barefoot along the sandy banks of the Arkansas River. Her favorite pet was a coyote named Hector who, she loved to say was, “Very ornery and could catch a chicken just like that.” Dresses were made from flour sacks and hand-me-downs from older siblings.
Growing up, she had a trick pony she rode bridle-less and bareback. She would stand on its back in perfect balance as it would gallop across the Kansas prairie just like characters from Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. She was an athlete who loved playing softball and among other activities was a cheerleader for Larned High School. It was in her DNA. Her father was an early baseball player who won a baseball scholarship to Ottawa University.
Although she would not tell you this, Maxine Brannan grew up into a stunningly beautiful woman with exquisite style and grace. On June 16, 1941 she married a star basketball athlete, and a local farm boy from Pawnee Rock, Doyle Cooper Foster in McDonald. She would say later, he was so persistent she finally said, “yes.”
During World War II, he was a Naval Chief Petty Officer stationed at Quonset Point, Rhode Island where he helped conduct the Gene Tunney program to keep naval personnel physically fit. It was the only time Maxine Foster lived away from her beloved Kansas. In 1944, when the Great Atlantic Hurricane slammed along the East Coast with 50 to 70 foot waves, she weathered her first hurricane by climbing upstairs in a building where she could protect her 1-year-old daughter, Kathy. When other adults stayed downstairs with the intent to stay awake through the hurricane, Maxine stayed by Kathy’s side. “I figured if we were going to be blown away by the storm, we’d go together.” They survived. She would also tell you it was in Rhode Island that she first developed her life-long love affair with fresh seafood.
After the war, the Fosters returned to Kansas where Doyle soon became a teacher and then eventually the superintendent of the Radium School. While he may have been the superintendent, she was the grand dame.
Close family friend Bob Gleason was a teenager at Radium and remembered thinking to himself, “What did Doyle do to end up with someone that beautiful as his wife?’ He wanted one just like that.
While the Foster family was still actively involved in the community of Radium, she gave birth to Bobby.
At Radium, Maxine Foster discovered and then perfected a miracle recipe – Lemon Meringue Pie, which those who tasted it soon agreed it was as close to heaven one could get without actually having to cross to the other shore. Maxine Foster would secretly delight in taking that pie to area potlucks and noting it was the first pie that disappeared – often never even getting placed on the dessert table with the other pies. She asked why? The serving ladies were each keeping prized pieces for them to eat.
There wasn’t much in life that Maxine Foster believed couldn’t be cured with a good dose of butter and sugar. Her maxim was to “Always keep a good knife handy.”
And while she was an excellent cook churning out delectable meals, Maxine Foster was also a farmer. She ran tractors and combines, trucks and constant errands back and forth to fields and then on to get parts to keep the machines running and in the fields.
To earn extra income for a growing family, she raised turkeys and worked many years as a bookkeeper at First State Bank in Larned, an administrative assistant at Larned State Hospital, the Larned High School and at Pawnee Beef Builders.
In her spare time, she was a friend to all animals – wild and domesticated. She had a way about her that could calm and soothe trembling creatures. She trained horses and dogs and once had a pet owl named “Hootie.” Throughout her life, the animals she befriended constantly surrounded her. When an orphan calf struggled to make its way, she named it Rosie and told her dog, Ginger, to watch out for that calf. Ginger did. It delighted her that Rosie and Ginger were constant companions, going everywhere on the farm together until Rosie died years later. A broken-hearted Ginger died a week later.
Because life was often busy and harried on the farm, she was tired of waiting on a storage shed to be built – so she built it herself. It still stands on the Foster Farm, true and straight.
Maxine Foster loved the land. She loved old Westerns, was a Louis L’Amour fan, and knew how to ride side-saddle. She especially loved her farm’s connection to the Santa Fe Trail and Pawnee Rock. Nothing thrilled her more than to climb in the pickup and slowly travel the dusty back roads along the farm, inspecting every inch, looking for wildlife and seeing how much things had grown from the day before.
She was an artist and could sketch beautiful portraits of family members, landscapes and whatever captured her interest. She read voracious amounts.
For the past three years, Maxine Foster dutifully asked God to give her one more year to garden. He did that. She had just planted onions, potatoes, peas, peppers, radishes and tomatoes. Gardening tool catalogs surrounded her living room.
Always a go-getter until the end, the last night of her life she attended a spontaneous reunion at the Radium school where she told people she had so many wonderful memories. Her hair was perfect. Her nails were beautiful.
Her son, Robert (Bob) Foster, two brothers, George and Chester Brannan and a sister, Edwina Hanshew, precede her in death. Her husband, Doyle, of 65 years died on Feb. 10, 2007.
She is survived by her daughter, Kathleen Foster of Hutchinson; a daughter-in-law, Phyllis Foster of Larned; two grandchildren, David and wife, Lynnette, Foster, and Jami and husband Travis Davis, both of Denver, Colo.; six great-grandchildren, Phoebe, Mia Maxine and Tate Davis, Malachi, Logan Mae and Willow Maxine Foster; and her best friends, Gizmo and Muffy.
In lieu of flowers, memorial funds have been established with the Pawnee County Humane Society and the United Methodist Church in Larned in care of the funeral home. The family plans a celebration of Maxine Foster’s life at a later time.
Funeral arrangements provided by
916 Main Street
Larned, Ks. 67550
Great Bend (Kan) Tribune, May 29, 2013