Katherine Maxon remembers the Great Depression, World War II, and often thinks of her father who told her stories about the world.
Maxon, a Safford resident who turned 100 on Jan. 24, is happy her family came to help her celebrate. Days before her birthday, Maxon sat in her living room as family members dropped in to visit and get ready for her birthday party. Her niece, a son and daughter had arrived, visiting from California and Florida.
With the help of her son, Father Mark Maxon, she counted 15 grandchildren and 12 great-great grandchildren with another great-great grandchild on the way. She and her husband, Norman Maxon, had 8 children. They moved to the Safford area in the early 1990s.
Being a homemaker was her main role throughout her life, she said. Her husband worked in construction.
Katherine Maxon was born in South Dakota to Patrick Joseph Donohue and Anna Donohue. She was one of eight children. Her mother was one of the first post mistresses in the state, and her father was a lawyer, she said.
A devout Catholic, Katherine spends her days reading and praying as well as following the news. She has a small dog and uses a cane to walk, living near Mount Graham in a large grove of well-trimmed mesquite trees. She enjoys her colorful goldfish, which live in a tank beside her kitchen.
“Father liked to travel the world through National Geographic,” she said.
Her earliest memories are of her father, who owned a subscription to the magazine. He would take her and her siblings on traveling adventures using his imagination — and the articles he read. As he told his children stories of distant countries, she said she felt as though she traveled with him.
She recalled the Great Depression, which she described as "a dirty time."
“There would be a cloud, a black cloud, and everything would turn black,” she said. “We had a garden and we would just weed through it.”
One of her most vivid memories was when her father died, she said. Her father had been a respected lawyer who worked closely with the Sioux tribe. When a member of the tribe needed legal assistance, he would help them in whatever way he could. In some instances, her family would be awakened in the middle of the night by someone asking for legal help, she said.
She remembered how frightened the townspeople were when he died because he was so well-liked by the tribe. They were afraid of an uprising. However, the townspeople soon realized that her father was in fact being honored by the tribal members. He received a ceremonial Sioux burial.
As a young teen she learned to type and delivered mail for the Postal Service, she said. Her parents insisted that she and her siblings receive a university education. During the Second World War, she met her husband, Norman, at a university dance. Norman Maxon had been sent by the Navy to the University of Iowa to study naval architecture. The young couple met at a dance, but romance wasn’t enough for marriage, she said.
“Mom wouldn’t let us get married during a war.”
As a result Katherine and Norman had to wait two years, she said. They were married in a double ceremony with her sister and her sister’s fiancé.
What has changed
“People have less respect for one another,” she said. “Basic respect. It’s become all about I, me, mine.”
Politics have changed, she said. Now most of the politicians are crooked. When she was younger, politicians served their states and communities and cared more for the people.
“Technology, if it’s used properly can be good,” she said, “To help keep in contact with each other.”
Maxon said she uses technology to watch Mass on television and communicate with her children.
When asked about the key to her longevity, she said it was all about heredity.
“Your genes are the things that determine that,” she said.
Father Mark Maxon, however, said that it was her lifestyle that kept his mother healthy.
“She had an excellent diet,” he said. “And really good nutrition.”
Her husband was diabetic, so Katherine was careful about their diet, Father Maxon said. She stayed active and was always on the go.
Father Maxon also attributed his mother’s faith to her longevity.
“She has profound Catholic faith. Her faith has gotten her through the hardest and the best of times,” he said.
Although Katherine said she hasn’t done anything special to change history, she said she loves her family and cherishes them. She had a message for the generations who will follow after her:
“You better behave, and do the good,” Katherine said, smiling.