Maxine Free Dies at 99; Longtime Coronadan Known for Family Market

The Free family matriarch, who co-founded the Free Bros. Market, would have celebrated her 100th birthday in June.

Maxine Free, a 67-year resident of Coronado and the much-loved matriarch of the Free family, passed in the comfort of her own home Dec. 30 of natural causes.

She was 99 and would have celebrated her centennial birthday June 20.

Maxine Sawyer was born in Roseburg, OR, as the younger of two sisters to C. Al Sawyer and Anna Horn. She grew up in Calexico.

Maxine came to Coronado after World War II when her husband, Charles, returned from the war. He had served with the Army and survived the bloody D-Day landing at Omaha Beach before being captured by the Germans. He served out the duration of WWII as a prisoner of war.

Charles and Maxine started Free Bros. Market in 1945 at the intersection of 10th Street, Isabella and Orange avenues (now the Chase Building). The store was a Coronado institution for three decades.

Just a couple of blocks from the beach, Free Bros. Market was popular with locals and visitors alike. Even today people remember the large pickle jar on the counter, the 10-cent hot dogs, crates of sweet navel oranges, and the large sign in the window proclaiming, “ICE COLD ICE CUBES, FROZEN FRESH.”

In the pre-cash register years, grocery clerks at Free Bros. Market would write the prices of your food items on the side of your paper bag, while in the back, Charles Free Sr., could often be heard singing with the customers. He loved music, and in particular he loved to sing opera.

The last 32 years of her life, Maxine Free lived in her condo at the Commodore, surrounded by a very caring and supportive community of friends and neighbors who continued to aid and support her and be a part of her life right up until the end.

Friends of Maxine Free grew accustomed to seeing her at the front door with a pot of homemade chicken soup whenever one of their family members was down with a cold or the flu. This was Maxine’s nature. She loved her friends and cherished her long relationships with them.

During the last three years of her life Maxine Free was cared for by what her family describes as:

“The most wonderful group of people we could have ever brought into her life. They allowed her to live out the remainder of her years in dignity, comfort and security. Our family is eternally grateful to them.”

Raised during the Great Depression, Maxine attended business school and worked as a dental assistant. During World War II she proudly served as a Red Cross volunteer before joining her husband as the manager of Free Bros.

While Maxine and Charles Free supported nearly every cause and charity in Coronado (and in particular Little League) she was personally very active in the Coronado Women’s Club and with her church – Coronado’s Graham Memorial Presbyterian. Of all the causes she supported, Maxine was particularly fond of the Disabled American Veterans.

Lee Mather, 94, has known the Frees since they came to Coronado. Lee’s son Steven was born in 1949. 

“The first thing I did when I left the hospital was to go to Charles and Maxine’s home to tell them I had a son,” said Mather. “Maxine is quite simply one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known and both she and Charles have been the dearest of friends for many, many years. She will be sorely missed.”

The Rev. Steven Mather, Lee’s son, will preside over Maxine Free’s memorial service, which will be held at Coronado’s Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12. A reception at the church will follow.

Maxine Free is survived by two sons, Charles and Paul. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends honor Maxine’s dedication to Disabled American Veterans with a donation in her memory. The local address for the organization is 8810 Rio San Diego Drive, San Diego, 92108.


This obituary was created by Joe Ditler and LivingObituary.com.

Travis Free January 11, 2013 at 05:01 AM
We love you Aunt Maxine! Please say hi to everyone especially my dad " Stew ". You were a very special lady and you will be greatly missed! Travis Free


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