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Donald Lee Maxwell

Avid fisherman, creative storyteller, proud veteran

Donald Lee Maxwell, a former Claremont resident, died on December 4, 2013. He was 87.

“Donnie,” as he was known, was born November 6, 1926 in Flat Rock, Illinois to Reid and Mary Maxwell, one of nine children. Upon graduating from Flat Rock High School in 1944, he joined the US Navy and proudly served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

During his time overseas, Mr. Maxwell sent love letters home to his wife-to-be, Lola Irene Cole. He married her in 1947 upon returning home from the Navy. They started their family in Illinois with the birth of David and Richard. In 1956, they moved to California, settling in Claremont, and their family grew with the addition of Randy and Donna. Mr. Maxwell was the superintendent for Utility Trailer and remained with the company until his retirement.

Mr. Maxwell was a consummate nature-lover. For many years, he made an annual trip to Red Lake in Canada where, joined by his brother-in-law Tom and a number of friends, he angled for halibut and other fish. Motor-home travel, another of Mr. Maxwell’s passions, also offered exposure to the great outdoors. Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell’s most memorable motor-home excursion was a 31-day sojourn through Alaska, undertaken when Donna was 8.

When it came to family, Mr. Maxwell had a the-more-the-merrier philosophy. They were joined on the trip by his sister Janice and brother Clark and their respective families. While at home, Mr. Maxwell enjoyed watching the wildlife in National Geographic specials with his family. The wildebeest seemed to be his favorite animal.

Cars were another of Mr. Maxwell’s enthusiasms. As a longtime NASCAR fan, he took pains to maintain a well-kept automobile. One of his favorite sayings was “A clean car is a happy car.” At one point, Mr. Maxwell used his 1915 Model T Ford to drive across the United States as part of The Great Race, an annual event open only to drivers of pre-World War II vehicles. His brother-in-law Tom accompanied him and the duo zig-zagged from New York to Denver to California, with their journey culminating in a visit to Disneyland.

As the years passed, Mr. Maxwell and his wife welcomed five grandchildren. A doting grandfather, he was adept at spinning tall tales like accounts of his days as an alligator wrestler and boxing champion. No one was able to disprove him and he stood firmly by his stories. 

The Maxwells’ home was a place that was always open to family. Sundays became a time when the entire family would come together. His grandchildren have fond memories of days full of family car washes, laughter, games of Peanuts and family dinners. An enthusiastic cook, Mr. Maxwell enjoyed making dessert, particularly cobblers. He was proud of his peach trees and included peaches in his sweet concoctions as often as possible.

He made many trips back to Illinois over the years, taking different routes and different grandchildren. Oregon was always part of the trip and blackberry-picking was a must. After 52 years of marriage, Mr. Maxwell lost his wife Lola. He remarried in 2002 to Wilma Shank and she survives.

He is survived by his children, David Maxwell, Richard Maxwell, Randy and Kathy Maxwell, and Donna Maxwell, all of California; by his siblings and their spouses, Joan and Jack Lowe of Texas, Wilfred and LaVene Maxwell of Illinois, and Barbara Steen, Janice and Tom Coan, and Clark and Shirley Maxwell, all of California; and by his sisters-in-law, Marjorie Maxwell and Lois Maxwell. Mr. Maxwell also leaves five grandchildren, Andrea, Alicia, Tim, Trevor and Lindsay; three great-grandchildren, Kyliee, Ryder and Lola; and one step-son and one step-grandson. He was preceded in death by his wife Lola, son James Maxwell, brothers Gaylord and Kenneth Maxwell and sister Nedra Jenkins.

Mr. Maxwell was interred in Seceder Cemetery in Flat Rock, Illinois. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 8 at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont.

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