Maxine Cotham: The Life of a Centenarian

It was a cold, rainy night and Rube Glover just wanted to find a place to sleep other than the rain-soaked, mushy ground. A solider in the United States Army during World War I, he was stationed in France. Eventually, he found a table that he could rest on for the night. After a little while, a man walked by and Glover offered to share the table with him.  

Little did he know, this kind gesture potentially saved his life. Unbeknownst to Glover, the man whom he shared the table with happened to be a higher-ranking military official. The next day, Glover, while entrenched in battle, suffered a gunshot wound to the neck and shoulder, with the shrapnel gradually migrating down his leg.

He was soon rescued and brought back to camp. That same military official that he shared the table with was in charge of distributing wounded soldiers to different hospitals. He saw Rube, recognized him, and then sent him to a hospital that was known for giving the best treatment. After a couple months, he was able to go home to his wife, Ida.

If Rube Glover would have been one of the 116,516 Americans who died in World War I, then he would have never been able to go back to Rush Springs, Oklahoma and start his little family with Ida. Fortunately, he was able to, and they welcomed their one and only child, a baby girl into this world on May 30, 1920. They named her Maxine Virginia.

Fast forward a century later, to the year 2021, and little Maxine is 100 years old, going on 101. Old age is often marred with the slow degradation of one’s mental and physical capacities. While Maxine does have a hard time moving around from time to time, she is still sharp as a tack, sweet, and has a fantastic sense of humor.

To fully understand how she got here, we must go back in time.

During the mid-1920s, Maxine started school. Back then, the first year of school was a bit different than it is now, with kids essentially completing two grade levels within the same school year.

“The primary was when you first started. After about half a year, you moved onto 1st grade,” Maxine said.

“Let me tell you about my first day of school. They sat us down at these little tables,” and although she is not entirely sure what transpired to cause the next turn of events, she still remembers what happened vividly.

A little boy had gotten into trouble and the principal came in, introduced himself, and then proceeded to “pick him up by his overall straps,” and “beat the tar out of him in front of the entire class.” That served as a great example for Maxine and the class to behave so that they would not be punished with a paddle board.

In 1929, when Maxine was nine years old, she moved into the house that she still lives in today. Her dad had the funds to purchase the house during the Prohibition and Great Depression because of his expert craftsmanship. He specialized in building stills for Moonshiners. Purchasing the home marked the first time that the family had electricity. Before that, they had to use coal oil lamps for light. It is hard to imagine today, but there was a time in which society lived without electricity, or virtually any modern electronic appliance or device.

“The worst thing about those times was having to take a bath in a washtub,” Maxine said with a laugh.

Less than a year after the Glover family moved into their new house, a family moved in next door which created a special friendship that would span just over nine decades. Rube and Ida became best friends with Arthur and Corine Tunnell. So much so that they made a special road trip together to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico that to this day is one of Maxine’s fondest memories.

“We went there when Corine and Tunnell married. It was their honeymoon and Mother, Daddy, and I went with them. I had to ride with Corine and Tunnell, of course. You know how kids are,” Maxine said.

A few years down the line, the Tunnells had a son, Joe Arthur Tunnell. Maxine was next door when he was born, and it did not take long for their familial bond to form.

By the time she reached high school, Rush Springs Schools finally had their first sport that was associated with the school, boys’ basketball. This is what kickstarted Maxine’s lifelong sports fandom. She certainly had the passion and desire, but did Maxine herself ever play sports?

With a look of disappointment, Maxine said, “No, you know why?”

“We had a school board then that didn’t believe in sports, much less women playing anything.”

Despite feeling left out and never able to play for the Melonheavers, Maxine did not let that stop her from supporting Rush Springs athletics and her overall love for sports.

In 1938, she graduated and began to work at a local bakery. Sadly, her mother’s kidney cancer took a turn for the worse and she passed away less than a month after graduation. Her father did not last long after Ida’s death, passing away 4 years later. After this, Corine stepped into the role of a motherly figure for Maxine.

The following year, she married the love of her life, Tom Cotham. She also began the first of “only 40 years” working at the Grady County Courthouse, where she spent time working for both the county commissioner and county clerk’s office.

She said she used her electric typewriter to write up, “military discharges, mortgages, register deeds, or anything else anybody wanted recorded.”

Fast forward to 1959, when Joe Tunnell began his illustrious hall of fame coaching career as the head football coach at Rush Springs. To no one’s surprise, his biggest fans were Maxine and Tom. Tom was even a member of the school board and booster club. They never missed a sporting event either. Wherever the team went, the Cotham’s followed and gave their outpouring of support. Though they never had any children, Joe and his teams essentially became their adoptive family. Even after Joe retired from coaching, two state championships and 322 wins later, he, Maxine, and Tom were still the school’s top supporters.

Phil “Sunny” Landrum, a 1961 Rush Springs graduate and a state championship winning basketball coach, can attest to the undeniably large impact Maxine has had on both the community and school.

Landrum said, “Tom and Maxine Cotham were by far the best, most loyal fans of the Rush Springs athletic programs that I can remember. They rarely missed a game, and when one considers they had no children of their own to support, it showed how much they loved the school and athletes of Rush Springs.” Their support and dedication were unmatched.

Maxine also closely followed the University of Oklahoma football and basketball teams.

Maxine said, “My uncle was an allergy specialist in Oklahoma City, and he went to OU and he got all kinds of tickets as a season ticket holder.”

This connection allowed the Cotham’s to attend many games, but one particular game always stood out each year.

“He would give us tickets to the OU-Texas game… Used to, I would think my life was ruined if I didn’t get to see OU and Texas play. Almost felt like my life was over,” and although she said it with a chuckle, this very clearly demonstrates the genuine love she has for sports.

When the Seattle Supersonics relocated to Oklahoma City and rebranded as the Thunder, they instantly had a fan in Maxine. Though she is not particularly fond of Kevin Durant and how he eventually left the Thunder, she still respects his talent.

Her favorite player, she said without skipping a beat, was “Russell Westbrook.” Russ is no longer with OKC, as could be said about James Harden and Serge Ibaka, but she still supports each of them. Their departures led her to be critical with how Thunder GM Sam Presti conducted business and her interest in the team has never been the same.

In 2007, Tom was ill and in poor health, which prohibited them from attending any more sporting events together or ever seeing a Thunder game in person. He had “broken his hip and also suffered from dementia.” During a hospital stay, he unexpectedly passed away, which came as a massive shock to Maxine. Remarkably, they had enjoyed 66 years of marriage together.

With Tom’s passing, Joe became Maxine’s primary caretaker. As she grew older, he would wake her up in the mornings, feed her cats, take her to events, get her mail, and buy groceries for her. Just as Corine had been a mother figure for Maxine, Maxine took on that role for Joe. They were as close to family as one could get without being blood related.

Coach Joe Tunnell passed away on March 2, and for Maxine, it was like losing a child. With Tom and Joe both gone, a massive part of her was gone as well.

Despite all the heartbreaks and loss that she has seen throughout her 100 years, she is still as sweet as a person can be. She is, as her age would testify, a survivor. So, through all that she has lived through, from 1920 to today, including wars, women’s suffrage, Great Depression, Prohibition, moon landing, civil rights movement, and much, much more, Maxine does not consider anyone of these to be the greatest change that she has experienced in the world. What else could it possibly be?

“Covid,” Maxine says. “Never, in all my years, have I seen anything like this.”

While horrific, and nowhere near ideal, it is certainly remarkable that the previous pandemic preceded her birth by one month and she has, Lord willing, been able to survive a pandemic of much larger proportions more than a century later.

“I want to live to be 100 years old,” is a sentiment that is commonly expressed by little children. Sadly, for the overwhelming majority of people, that is not a reality. However, for Maxine it is. Even though she claims that she is “nothing special,” she undoubtedly is a special person and has lived a fascinating life. At her age, she has seen it all. She has witnessed the golden age of Rush Springs, and its economic downfall. She has witnessed wars, harsh times, and turmoil. She has witnessed so many go on before her in this life, and yet she is still here with love, kindness, and a survivor’s mentality. She is Maxine Cotham, the beloved centenarian matriarch of Rush Springs.

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