Actors’ Theatre Mourns the Loss of Elaine Maternowski

Actors’ Theatre sends our deepest condolences to the family of Elaine Maternowski. She and her husband, Dr. Maternowski, have been long time patrons and supporters of Actors’ Theatre.  We will miss her greatly. As you may recall, Elaine and her husband Chet were our very first Theatre Spotlight Award recipients.


East Grand Rapids

Mary Exilda Elaine Maternowski (nee Gallant) died in her home in East Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 11, 2012, surrounded by her family and following a brief illness. Born October 29, 1930, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the curly-headed daughter of Alice and Omer Gallant was schooled by French nuns who while strict (they slapped her wrists for writing with her left hand) failed to repress her spirit. In fourth grade Elaine started voice lessons and by high school her beautiful contralto was broadcast on the radio. As a young girl she dreamed of joining the conservatory, but a career in music was side-tracked for a more practical degree in nursing at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts where she received a full scholarship and a RN degree. She excelled in nursing, winning accolades for her quality of patient care and soon after packed a brown leather suitcase and boarded the train for St Louis, Missouri where she entered a Bachelors program in nursing administration. It was in St. Louis where she met Chet, a then medical student. From there on the couple charted their lives together-hers one of service and compassion for the marginalized and poor, which essentially framed the rest of her very big and long life. Creating a bit of a scandal by crossing not only parish, ethnic and also State lines (a Polish boy from Indiana and a French Canadian girl from Massachusetts) Elaine and Chester married in 1954 in Andover, Massachusetts and then moved to Indiana, later Ann Arbor and finally to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the family settled. Elaine mothered seven children born between 1955 and 1963 magnificently balancing her maternal skills in the home with an extraordinary commitment to numerous communities embracing the arts, politics, and medicine. In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, among a tight community of friends in Ann Arbor, she donned her nursing hat joining Chet on Holidays for Humanity, a group they started to encourage doctors to spend their holidays serving the poor. Their healing travels took them to Guatemala, the Texas-Mexico border, the Caribbean and just down the road with migrant health care in Michigan at the Clinica Santa Maria. As an active member of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and pacifist in heart and purpose, Elaine hosted progressive Catholics in the family home for passionate discussions on the war and the division that defined the US in that era. On Sunday mornings she would boil enormous pots of barley and burger soup for the homeless, ladling up endless warm meals-contributing to the founding of what is now an established Grand Rapids institution: God’s Kitchen. Later her dedication for serving as an advocate for social justice was put to practice during a Board term with the ACLU branch in West Michigan. Her tremendous support of the arts-visual, music, theatre and dance-was a consistent theme throughout her life. On weekends and during school vacations she would bring all of her children (despite the protests) to museums and art galleries in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, London and Paris, infusing them with her love of art. Elaine was among those who founded the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts promoting local venues for resident artists and later, from the former Federal Building, she was a huge proponent for the Decorative Arts at the former Grand Rapids Art Museum. She was a patron to the renegade New World String Quartet, who eventually performed at Alice Tully Hall in NYC. Her unending love of music was most profoundly reflected in her decades long support for the Grand Rapids Symphony, many of her closest friends the musicians themselves. The composite of art, politics and medicine that best defines Elaine is reflected in her deeply engaged twenty nine years of service to the Mary Free Bed Hospital-everything she did there centered on celebrating life, keeping the patient’s interest at heart. Like the original Marys who in 1891 first collected and donated pennies to provide the indigent a bed, (Mary Exilda) Elaine followed course pioneering new vision and purpose to the Mary Free Bed Hospital’s Guild. After volunteering with brain and spine-injured patients, she realized that families as caregivers required intensive education which led to a small family-friendly library. As a member of the Mary Free Bed Guild, she engaged the Guild in a vital professional exchange in Costa Rica with the Centro Nacional de Rehabilitation and when organizing a conference with the Pan American Health Organization in San Jose on children and disabilities, she brazenly called the Minister of Health herself to ensure his participation! Never losing her lens of rights and equality she served as a member of the Mary Free Bed Minority Scholarship Committee providing places for developing country nationals to learn the high end work of prosthetics and post- injury recovery. Perhaps her greatest achievement and joy on the Guild was when she chaired Mary Free Bed’s Exhibition for the Arts. As chair, she established a tradition now thirty years strong where disabled artists with significant physical challenges highlight their works of art. Elaine was keenly aware that this art-displayed at the exhibition or hanging in the corridors of the Mary Free Bed wards-would inspire the injured to believe that anything was possible. In fact, making anything and everything possible is precisely what Elaine did. She lived a life of giving, grace and dignity and bestowed these deeply human traits to her seven children and eighteen grandchildren who she so adored, who survive her and who will miss her eternally. Elaine is preceded in death by her daughter Mary Elizabeth Hassan and survived by her loving husband and life partner of 58 years, Chet; children Mary Anne Romano (Thomas) of Syracuse, New York; Joseph (Stephanie Warne) of St. Paul, Minnesota; Peter (Karoline Kirst) of Madison, Wisconsin; her son-in-law Syed Hassan of St Louis Missouri; Guru Hari Khalsa (Harinder) of Eugene Oregon; Mary Catherine (Alexander Cameron) of Mombasa, Kenya; and Andrew (Monica Randles) of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is also survived by her loving grandchildren, John, Matthew, Paul and Anna Romano; Max and Maria Maternowski; Otto and Alice Kirst; Raheel, Batul, Baqir and Siraj Hassan; Nar Singh and Dev Saroop Khalsa; Malcolm and Caleb Cameron; and Nicholas and Isabel Maternowski; and her brothers Vincent, Bernard and Normand Gallant and her sisters Roberta Shackelton and Paulette Gravois. A memorial service will be held at 4:30 PM on Sunday, the 14th of October, 2012 in the Conference Center at the Dominican Center at Marywood located at 2025 Fulton Street East, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any memorials be made in Elaine’s name to the Mary Free Bed Hospital Guild, 235 Wealthy Street SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503.

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