Maxine Rita Kern, 90, a caring, curious and creative mother, wife, sibling, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend, died Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in her hometown of Dunkirk after a brief illness.
The daughter of Mabel (nee Strychalski) and Michael Grupa, Maxine grew up on Middle Road and attended Dunkirk schools and churches. Her siblings made a great impression on her, as they would throughout her life, and she often told stories of growing up in the First Ward – the corner stores, the railyard activity, snapshots of a tough though not joyless life during the Great Depression. She helped out at home with her siblings, as well as one summer in Buffalo running daily errands for a relative who was deaf. As she earned her high school diploma back in Dunkirk, she relished her various jobs at the Capitol Theatre on Central Avenue..
It was around this time she met Arthur Kern, who became the love of her life. The two married on Jan. 6, 1951. Soon after, Art served in the U.S. Army and when stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Maxine followed, where she lived with relatives and took up secretarial work in nearby New York City. The bustle and fashion of the Big Apple in the early 1950s crystallized exciting memories that Maxine carried throughout her life.
No doubt the most important work of Maxine’s life was raising her own family. Maxine and Art had their dream home built in a then-burgeoning neighborhood in Dunkirk along West Seventh Street. Five boys were raised in that home. Here, Maxine and Art can be found in old photos and memories in the front yard as they celebrated their five sons through study abroad send-offs, new jobs across state lines, Naval deployments, beaming newborns and swimming records. Each son carried Maxine’s humor and individualism, through times good and difficult. They all returned regularly – for a visit, sometimes longer – with their own families and loved ones, especially during summer or to see her latest Christmas tree decorations. Her wish to have a girl came true in a way, too, once grandchildren and great-grandchildren filled out the family. Through the changes of the years, and the expanding generations and friendships, Maxine was steady in the comfort to be herself – quirky, caring and interested.And she never lost her own creative spirit, including landscape painting, avid gardening, voracious reading, amateur genealogy and a fun, folk art approach to collage with family photographs. She was also involved with the St. Hyacinth Holy Rosary Society and as a poll worker for local elections. As Art’s health slowly declined, she was able to care for him in their home, with him sometimes calling for her in Polish pet names.
In her own twilight, Maxine cared for cats and occasionally paint-ed, all the while reveling in every chance to hear from family and friends – and to tell her own tale or two. She will be deeply missed even as her compassion and character live on.
Maxine is survived by her five children: Chris (Ann) Kern, of Winchester, Va., Paul Kern of Dunkirk, Fred (Lori) Kern of Carrollton, Texas; Allan (Kathy) Kern of Dunkirk, and Tom (Donna Wright) Kern of Austin, Texas. She is also survived by seven grandchildren: Justin (Jessi-ca Franklin) Kern, Kate (Niall Herlehy) Kern, Barb (Jeff Gee) Kern, Sari (Ryan Gard) Kern Gard, Brett (Alisha White) Kern, Allie (Sean) Hoffman and Yvana (Weston Jirovec) Kern. In addition, she is survived by grea-grandchildren: Haiden Gee, Anais, Alyssa, Tristan and Auvianna Hoffman, Taavi, Arlo and Finn Herlehy, and Edie, Rowan and Juniper Kern-Gard. She will also be missed by many cousins, nieces, nephews and friends, as well as her friend and caretaker, Gina Rondinelli.Along with her parents, she was predeceased by her husband, Art, in 2001; and her siblings: Marlene (George) Petrella, Phyllis (Randall) Grimm, Dolores (Ike) Monroe and Donald (Joan) Grupa.
Family and friends are invited to attend a memorial service to be held from 6-9 p.m., Monday, Oct. 18 at R. Mackowiak Funeral Home, 56 E. Doughty St., Dunkirk.. A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 19 in Blessed Mary Angela Parish Church of St. Hyacinth. She will be interred alongside Art at St. Hedwig Cemetery in Dunkirk.