100th Year Birthday
Johnnie Obina Samples (Maxey), the youngest child of John and Ella (Charles) Samples, was born Aug. 22, 1919, into a large family of 12 children in rural Kilgore, Texas, where she attended Mount Pleasant Colored Methodist Episcopal Church along with many of her extended family members.
Obina, as her family called her, was active in the church's Sunday School, choir, Junior Missionary Society and Christian Endeavor while annually serving as a Conference delegate. As a child she was stricken with rheumatic fever and bed ridden until she was 5 years old. Despite this, she gained her strength and played saxophone in the school band and even played basketball in high school.
In 1938, Johnnie attended Texas College in Tyler, Texas, where she met Charles Britton "Maxey" Maxey her first day of college and eventually became his Kappa Alpha Psi sweetheart. A year later, on Oct. 15, 1939, they secretly married while still attending college as single students, and Johnnie acquired her favorite title, Mrs. Charles Maxey, which she carries proudly to this day. This was the start of a radically romantic liaison, not unlike that of the infamous Romeo and Juliet, lasting over 61 years. Together they started a joint life-long commitment of service to God, family and community. They began their community involvement in college with membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, which was then a radical organization and would have meant automatic expulsion from school had it been known by the college administration.
Maxey graduated from Texas College in 1939 with dual degrees in economics and secondary education. The couple then moved to Maxey's home town, Longview, Texas, where Maxey taught elementary/junior high students for three years. Their marriage truly started with service to children, as they helped in the rearing of Johnnie's niece, Gloria, who was a toddler. Johnnie assumed the role of fulltime mother and helpmate to Maxey as he carried the torch of community activism and business acumen forward for the family. Their first child, Carolyn "Gahlena" was born in 1941. In 1942, they became part of "The Great Migration" and moved to Portland, where they continued to be involved in community and raise their family. Johnnie would later give birth to Virginia, 1943; Charles William "Billy," 1945; Donna, 1949; and Jonathan Ray, 1955.
Many years later, their children made Johnnie and Charles the proud grandparents of Britt Easterly (Gahlena & Arthur); Jocelyn and Jennifer Johnson (Virginia & James); Kelly and Kristin Maxey (Bill & Judy); Shaina Pomerantz (Donna & Steve); and Charles Maxey II (Jonathan & Christine). The family also welcomed two great-grands, Austin Green (Bill) and Samira Easterly (Gahlena). Johnnie now has two great-great grands, Jaxon and Jagger Green (Austin and Danika).
Moving to the Pacific Northwest during World War II, they encountered many opportunities to work in the community from the vantage point of their business, Maxey's Barber Shop, and through their church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, where Johnnie became a choir member, helped with Sunday School and they co-led Christian Endeavor for teenagers. Maxey became an active member in the Young Republican Party, and with four young children, Johnnie supported his efforts in the party through voter registration in the African American community. Often questioned as to why they became Republicans, the Maxeys replied that they "had never been allowed to vote in the South and felt that both parties were about the same in their treatment of Negroes; and besides, in Oregon, the Republicans, (who at that time were leaders nationally in liberalism), were in control. So (they) went with the power players." Presently, Johnnie is an Independent and last voted in 2019.
From 1953-59, Mrs. Maxey was a Bluebird and Camp Fire Girls Leader based out of Boise and Eliot elementary schools. She was Boise School Parent-Teacher Association P.T.A. president, and the first PTA president of Eliot School after it was re-located to Flint Street, the site of present day Harriet Tubman School. Additionally, Mrs. Maxey sponsored after-school and vacation Bible school programs run by the Mennonite Church in their home for over ten years.
In 1953, Mrs. Maxey was a founding member of Les Femmes, a Negro women's social service organization, and served as an advisor through 1959 helping to plan many Debutante Cotillions for the young ladies. By 1955, now with five children ranging from 14 to newborn, Johnnie still managed to be an exemplary homemaker and mother: cooking, canning, baking, sewing, doing yard work and her beloved flower garden, and a jim-dandy home repair person — all while transporting five children to baseball games, track meets, piano lessons, ballet and tap lessons, summer camp, Scouts and church choir, and supporting Maxey in his increasing business and community ventures. She even made elaborate costumes for her three daughters' participation in ballet and tap dance recitals sponsored by Portland Parks & Recreation and held all over the city of Portland.
Through the years, Maxey and Johnnie, in true entrepreneurial spirit, owned and operated several businesses. That includes Maxey's Barbershop on Northeast Cherry Street, later on Northeast Weidler Street, which was forced to relocate by imminent domain of the Interestate-5 Freeway project, and finally North Williams Avenue.
They were co-owners of an appliance freezer-frozen food program. In 1959, forced to move out of their beautiful home in central Albina by urban renewal — aka gentrification — Johnnie and Maxey purchased a corner grocery store on North Williams Avenue and Going Street, which they named Maxey's Better Buy Grocery Store and trained their children and many other young people, who are now community leaders and business owners.
From 1962-65, Maxey's Better Buy Grocery sponsored a Connie Mack Baseball Team for boys 16 to 18 years of age. Their last business, as Oregon Liquor commission agents, was located on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Fremont Street until their retirement in 1985.
Mrs. Maxey worked on the Mothers' March of Dimes Drive from 1956-59, and was a member of the Voter's Election Board from 1949-58 while serving as a precinct member and captain for all elections. In her spare time, she worked 15 years consecutively with the Little League. She was also a member of the Jefferson High School P.T.A. for 11 years. Johnnie was an intermittent member of the church choir for a period spanning 40 years, and was also an actively supportive member of the Young Republicans of Oregon, for which Maxey was elected vice president of the Multnomah County branch in 1950.
Johnnie and Maxey truly were a team! Every activity he was involved in, Johnnie was a silent partner supporting him dutifully in the background, while shoring him up on both sides, and leading him ever so delicately like the "Steel Magnolia" she was! Maxey, an activist, business and family man, and Johnnie, as his powerful hidden supporter, had a significant impact on the North/Northeast Portland community as well as the state of Oregon. He was active in many organizations including Bethel A.M.E. Church, NAACP, Urban League, Young Republican Party, The Texas Social Club, Little League and Connie Mack Baseball, PTA, Jefferson and Benson High School Dad's Clubs, the Barbershop Connection, Leisure Hour Golf Club, Trailblazers Basketball Supporter, African-American Advisory Council to the Portland Police Bureau and his beloved fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, for which he was a founding member of every chapter in the state of Oregon. Without Johnnie's support, the community icon, Charles Maxey, would not have existed! She was indeed, "the wind beneath his wings."
Not satisfied to be idle in retirement, Mrs. Maxey was an active member of the Harley Akers' Matrons' Club for more than 10 years. Additionally, she volunteered for the NAACP and the American Red Cross, and served as a member of the Ambassador Volunteer Program at Bess Kaiser Hospital. Maxey and Johnnie were among the first to purchase season tickets for the new Portland Trailblazers in 1971 through 2008. In 1983, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, for which the Maxeys were agents from 1981-85, recognized them for 50 years of service to the community and the state of Oregon. The Maxeys also recorded their life stories for the Oregon Historical Society's permanent exposition on Portland's African American Community.
The indomitable spirit that is Mrs. Maxey was hyperactive in family, community and church activities until 1996, when she sustained a life-altering stroke which paralyzed the left side of her body. Even then, in 2010, Johnnie was crowned Rose Queen of Marquis Piedmont Independent Living Adult Care Home. Despite numerous health setbacks over 23 years, Johnnie still attends church and serves as an ex-officio member of Bethel A.M.E. Church's Women's Missionary Society and the Stewardess's Board — continuing her life-long commitment to God, family and community.
Happy 100th Birthday, Queen Mother Mrs. Johhnie Obina Samples Maxey. You are truly one in a million.
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