Monday, January 30, 2023

Obituary: Maxine Free, 99 – Coronado Matriarch, Founder of Free Bros


CORONADO – Maxine Free, a 67-year resident of Coronado, founder of Free Bros Market and the much-loved matriarch of the Free family, passed in the comfort of her own home Dec. 30 of natural causes. She was 99 and would have celebrated her centennial birthday June 20.

Maxine Sawyer was born in Roseburg, Oregon as the younger of two sisters to C. Al Sawyer and Anna Horn. She grew up in Calexico, California before moving to Coronado.

Maxine came to Coronado after World War II when her husband Charles returned from the war. He had served with the US Army and survived the bloody D-Day landing at Omaha Beach before being captured by the Germans. He served out the duration of WWII as a prisoner of war.

Charles and Maxine started Free Bros Market in 1945 at the intersection of Tenth Street, Isabella and Orange Avenue (now the Chase Building). The store was a Coronado institution for three decades.

In this illustration by Eileen Kennedy, Free Bros Market can be seen at the corner of Tenth Street, Isabella and Orange Avenue. Across the street is Walt Shortt’s Shell Station, another popular landmark of the time.

Just a couple of blocks from the beach, Free Bros Market was popular with locals and visitors alike. Even today people remember the large pickle jar on the counter, the ten-cent hotdogs, crates of sweet navel oranges, and the large sign in the window proclaiming, “ICE COLD ICE CUBES, FROZEN FRESH.”

In the pre-cash register years, grocery clerks at Free Bros Market would write the prices of your food items on the side of a paper bag, while in the back, Charles Free, Sr., could often be heard singing with the customers. He loved music, and in particular he loved to sing opera.

Free Bros Market, a wonderful memory today, but once a cherished institution along Coronado’s main street.

The last 32 years of her life, Maxine Free lived in her condo at The Commodore, surrounded by a very caring and supportive community of friends and neighbors who continued to aid and support her and be a part of her life right up until the very end.

During her life, friends of Maxine Free grew accustomed to seeing her at the front door with a pot of homemade chicken soup whenever one of their family members was down with a cold or the flu. This was Maxine’s nature. She loved her friends and cherished her long relationships with them.

During the last three years of her life Maxine Free was cared for by what her family describes as, “The most wonderful group of people we could have ever brought into her life. They allowed her to live out the remainder of her years in dignity, comfort and security. Our family is eternally grateful to them.”

A very young Maxine. This photo was taken in August 1927.

Raised during the Great Depression, Maxine attended business school and worked as a dental assistant. During WWII she proudly served as a Red Cross volunteer before joining her husband at Free Bros Market as the store manager.

Charles Sr. and Maxine, seen in two chapters from their lives.

While Maxine and Charles Free supported nearly every cause and charity in Coronado (and in particular Little League) she was personally very active in the Coronado Women’s Club and with her church – Coronado’s Graham Memorial Presbyterian. Of all the causes she supported, Maxine was particularly supportive of the Disabled American Veterans.

Lee Mather, 94, has known the Frees since they came to Coronado. Lee’s son Steven was born in 1949. “The first thing I did when I left the hospital was to go to Charles and Maxine’s home to tell them I had a son,” said Mather. “Maxine is quite simply one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known and both she and Charles have been the dearest of friends for many, many years. She will be sorely missed.”

The Free family. Charles Free Sr. sitting, Charles Jr. top left, Maxine, and Paul Free.

Maxine and her boys, from left, Charles Jr. and Paul.

The Rev. Steven Mather, Lee’s son, will preside over Maxine Free’s memorial service, which will be held at Coronado’s Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 10 a.m. A reception at the church will follow.

This is how most will remember Maxine Free, smiling and eager to hear about your family and your day. At 99 she would often say, “I honestly don’t know why God had allowed me to live so long.”

Those who knew her are grateful for every one of those days and years.

Maxine Free is survived by two sons, Charles and Paul. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends honor Maxine’s dedication to the Disabled American Veterans with a donation in her memory.

A relic from the past.

Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.