If a community is fortunate enough to be the home of such generous, personable, and kind-hearted people as Ron and Mary Maxwell, then it should reserve a time to celebrate them. The 20th Anniversary of the Ron and Mary Maxwell Community Spelling Bee is not only an event to support the mission of Mid-State Literacy Council, but also an opportunity to honor two people who have contributed so much to those who live here.
Ron and Mary’s passion to teach and help others brought them to State College in 1963, where both taught at Penn State University and also gave back to the community around them. Mary taught in the College of Human Development and was part of a committee of parents who organized the first Children’s Day at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Ron was an English professor and started Penn State’s peer tutoring program. They got involved with Mid-State in the early 1980s, where they volunteered as tutors. For many years, Ron worked with the same man, who vastly improved his literacy skills; in the process, they also formed a friendship. Ed Maxwell, son of Ron and Mary, and his wife Julie described Ron as a man who could relate to people. “He knew how to connect with people of all kinds,” Ed said.
The Maxwells were compassionate people who clearly understood and recognized Mid-State’s mission. Ron, owner of Maxwell Trucking & Excavating, had many employees who strained to read and write, causing him to see the struggles of not having literacy skills. Ed emphasized the love and respect Ron’s employees had for him, as he was always finding the chance to help others.
Both Ron and Mary were always looking for opportunities to contribute to those and the community around them. Growing up, they weren’t monetarily wealthy. “Wealth to them was family and community,” Ed said. During their college years, Ron and Mary worked together as camp counselors, and when they had children of their own they become involved with programs such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Ed said his parents “always went above and beyond for their children.” They were the parents who always stayed after events to help clean up, and Ron would hire neighborhood kids to mow the grass in hopes of teaching them how to work. Mary adored children and taught for twenty-three years at The Cooperative Playschool. “They were teachers at heart,” Ed said. “They just had a knack for teaching.”
Before Mid-State began its Community Spelling Bee, the organization hosted an Annual Lobster Boil. The Maxwells were involved with the design of the event, and Ron built the tanks for the lobsters. He was a talented woodworker, and would make wooden tops for his employees’ toolboxes. Ron and Mary both enjoyed gardening. If Ron saw an empty spot on the side of the road, he would go back later and plant flowers. “He wanted to make everything better and beautiful,” Julie said. Mary also spread beauty by planting flowers in the courtyards at Foxdale Village, where the Community Spelling Bee is held. She often transplanted them from her own home.
It was during the period of Lobster Boils that Ron came up with the idea of hosting a spelling bee that would be sponsored by local businesses. Maxwell Trucking and the people they did business with provided the bulk of sponsorship during the event’s early years. “The first years were a struggle,” Ron said, “but then it blossomed.” Maxwell Trucking continues to sponsor the event and has had a team the past twenty years.
Ron and Mary Maxwell were truly “people all about other people,” Ed described. They impacted the lives of all those around them, bringing kindness and devotion everywhere they went. The 20th Anniversary of the Ron and Mary Maxwell Community Spelling Bee is just one reflection of their dedication toward the community that we continue to see to this day.