Dividing the workload for a 70-year marriage

FAMILY: Anchorage pillars made their home a town social center.

By ROSE COX

rcox@adn.com

Published: June 11, 2007

Last Modified: June 11, 2007 at 03:48 AM

Staying married for 70 years can be simply a matter of living long enough. But enjoying and succeeding at marriage over the long haul takes patience, communication, commitment and an equitable division of labor, say Maxine and Frank Reed Sr.

"She's a patient woman, and I try her patience quite frequently," Frank said while sitting at the dining table in the house that he and Maxine have lived in since 1939.

The couple's 70th wedding anniversary is today. They celebrated it Saturday with a barbecue for friends following a ceremony in which Mayor Mark Begich named the staircase that leads down the hill from their driveway on 12th Avenue "The Maxine and Frank Reed Family Staircase."

The two met as seniors at University of Washington in Seattle. Maxine was living next door to Frank's boardinghouse when he stopped by to ask her landlady if she would provide meals for him and his roommates. Maxine answered his knock.

"I went back to the apartment next door and called a friend of mine -- he was 6-foot-3 and Maxine was 5-foot-9 or 10 -- and I told him, 'You've got to come eat with us. I've got just the beautiful girl for you.' "

"I tried to palm her off on a friend, but I didn't get away with it," Frank quipped.

He brought up the M-word just a month later. Maxine was studying in her bedroom that Saturday when Frank and his roommates were leaving their boardinghouse. She leaned out the window to ask where they were going.

"The football game. Would you like to go along?" Frank said.

"She said, 'Oh no, you wouldn't want me along.' We bandied words for a few moments, and I said off the cuff, 'Well, how about you marrying me?' "

After dinner later that night, Maxine brought up "that little matter" they needed to take care of. Friends tied tin cans to their car, and they set off on a lark to find a justice of the peace. They talked into the evening, until Maxine said she had a date that night that she needed to get ready for.

Within a year from the day they met, the two married at Maxine's sorority house.

"My mother thought I was leaving for another world when I married an Alaskan," Maxine said.

"She was not very happy."

Frank took his bride home to Alaska to live in Eklutna, where he worked as an operator at the Eklutna Power House. His father, Frank Ivan Reed, and John Long developed the plant to provide hydroelectric power to Anchorage in the 1920s. Eklutna was a 27-mile drive from town.

"Lucy Cuddy was a big factor in our young married life," Maxine said. "When her kids went off to college, we had access to their room. Anytime we wanted to come to town, we just left a note on the table saying 'We're here.' The door was never locked."

The standing invitation allowed the young couple to participate in Anchorage's social life, attend parties and go to movies.

"We had a good time," Maxine said.

When they moved to Anchorage, Maxine had a chance to really put her degree from the University of Washington to work.

"I was a home economics major, and in my day marriage was a career," she said. A clear division of labor was part of their success, with Frank sometimes working two jobs and Maxine holding down the domestic front.

Their home was a town social center while they were raising their two children, Pauline and Frank Jr.

"Mom had tea parties and craft parties. She'd have groups of friends over," Pauline Reed said. Many a high school class party was held at the house, and the steep slope at the end of their driveway became known as the Reeds' sledding hill.

Frank Sr.'s involvement in the community and his career gave Maxine plenty of opportunity to put her skills to work throwing dinners and parties.

"She supported me in every way she could," Frank said. "I worked in a bank, and we did lots of visiting and partying. Every facet of it, my home and home life, were a part of it. If I called up late to say I'm bringing someone home for dinner, it might be Bob Bartlett or Mike Gravel.

"We worked as a team trying to make our community better and our lives better," Frank said.

Family dinners were the center of home life, Pauline said.

"Mom always had dinner at 6, and Dad always came home at 6, sat down for a few minutes and then we had dinner. Leafy green and yellow vegetables, protein -- it was a complete meal every night. I think that was one of the things Maxine did that really made this family a family."

Like all couples together for any length of time, the Reeds faced challenges. Frank contracted polio in 1950, and recovered. Maxine was a breast cancer survivor at age 34 before chemotherapy was widely used and survived two other bouts with cancer during their marriage. Their son, Frank Jr., died April 29 this year.

Through it all the couple has pulled together.

"I think trying to understand the other person's point of view is the most important thing," Frank said. "Frequently, one says one thing, and the slant of what they are saying is different than yours.

"You've got to understand where they're coming from. Communication is a fundamental, and patience and understanding."

Find Rose Cox online at adn.com/contact/rcox or call 257-4469.