Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maxine Uhrig: Queen of a rodeo family

Well-known mother of six boys dies at 72

Express Staff Writer

Ted and Maxine Uhrig, celebrating along Hailey’s Main St. during a recent Days of the Old West celebration, simply loved being in Hailey and greeting their many friends over the Fourth of July.

There's going to be a big crowd at Shoshone's First Baptist Church on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1 p.m. for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one of Hailey's most well-known, well-respected and well-liked residents, Maxine Uhrig.

After a lengthy bout with cancer, Uhrig, 72, died Saturday, Dec. 6, at her Shoshone home, surrounded by family. A people person who seemed to become an instant friend to anyone she met, Maxine raised six boys and thoroughly enjoyed her 13 grandchildren.

She'll be remembered for her "welcoming nature and her love for others," said her youngest son, Phillip Uhrig.

"And it wasn't just the Uhrig or Nelson families," he said. "It was everybody. She never had a bad thing to say about anybody. She was always there for us."

Maxine was married for 55 years to Ted Uhrig, the man who became synonymous with Hailey's Days of the Old West rodeo for more than 50 years. Maxine and Ted were grand marshals of the Days of the Old West parade in 1997, the same year they moved from Hailey to a spread west of Shoshone, very near the railroad tracks.

Whether it was rodeo, or ball games played by their children and grandchildren, the Uhrigs were always there in the bleachers, lending support and hollering like crazy. They put thousands of miles on their truck driving to games, even to watch youngsters who weren't members of their own family.

Ted always preferred driving, of course, because he would set off all the security bells and whistles when he went through airport security—because of all his belt buckles and metal-related things cowboys carry around.

Maxine and Ted seemed to know just about everyone in southern Idaho through their rodeo associations and because of their children's athletic exploits. If you were playing on a team with one of the Uhrig boys, you knew you had done something right when you heard Maxine's loud and joyous voice in the grandstand.

But Maxine Uhrig was more than a partisan rooter.

"The boys (Maxine's six children) got together Sunday night, the day after my mother passed," Phillip said Monday. "We were talking and my brother Scott made a great point—she didn't just influence us kids, it was the other kids, too. She gave every bit as much attention and hugs to the kid that might have been sitting at the end of the bench.

"Whenever I came out of the locker room or took the ball field, the first thing I did was look for where my parents were sitting. They were so supportive, whether you made a great play or an error. No matter what, we learned from them that it was OK to succeed but it was also OK to fail."

Maxine and Ted Uhrig succeeded more than they failed.

They started dating when Maxine was a sophomore at Hailey High School and married in June 1953 at St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey.

Born in Utah in January 1936, young Maxine had moved with her family to Triumph at age 3 in 1939, and then moved into town at Hailey when she was in the second grade. She was 17 when she married Ted Uhrig, who came from pioneer Wood River Valley stock.

Maxine always said she didn't know how her father, a miner, ever put up with his three daughters.

Her sisters, Marian Nelson and Martha Bolliger, still live within a mile of each other in Hailey.

"She always told us that, growing up with two sisters, her wish was to have boys," Phillip said. "She got 'em, six of them. And she wouldn't have had it any other way."

But Maxine wasn't sold right away on the rodeo life. She didn't get involved with horses and rodeo until she met Ted. To pass the time she would take books to read at the rodeo until, one day, she decided to put away the books and climb aboard a horse like the rest.

"I decided, hey, if I'm gonna be married to Ted Uhrig, I'd better get with it," she told the Idaho Mountain Express in a 1997 interview. "I'm not gonna read a book."

Characteristically, she threw herself into the job. When the rodeo stock people came over to the Uhrig house for the draw, Maxine entertained them. Behind the scenes, she simply loved the people.

"She grew to love the sport," Phillip said. "She was always so aware of the way people felt. I remember I never liked the rodeo clowns when I was very young. She knew that and she'd always hold my hand when the rodeo clowns came out."

Having lived in Hailey for over 55 years, the 1953 Hailey High School graduate was wistful about moving to Shoshone 11 years ago. But she loved hearing the sound of passing trains. "And I guess my dad got used to the sound," Phillip said.

The Uhrig family had gathered around Maxine over the past two weeks during her final battle with cancer. She was firm in her wishes for the dwindling days of life—she wanted to be at home, in her house, in her bed and surrounded by family, Phillip said.

"You know, it was so cold and windy most of those last two weeks we were all there in Shoshone," he said. "But that last day, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was so mild out. When she passed, a train came by and was honking as we took her out of the house for the last time. It was really something that it happened like that."

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