Obituary: Maxine Bruhns (1924 to July 2020)

By Chandrika Rajagopal, College Station, TX 

Editor’s Note:  Chandrika Rajagopal lived in the Pittsburgh Metro area during the 1980s and 90s, and was part of the efforts to smooth out the teething troubles of the Indian American community in those challenging formative years. She was the founding chairperson of the Indian Nationality Room Committee from 1991-2000. She moved to Texas, in 1998.

Meeting Maxine Bruhns was an unforgettable experience. In May 1991, we met near a painting at Chancellor Wesley Posvar’s residence on the Pitt campus. An elegantly dressed lady shared with me details about the artist while I was admiring the painting’s wintry scene. She was Maxine Bruhns.

After our introductions, the first question that flew out of my mouth was, “Why is there no Indian Nationality Room?” Maxine explained that these unique rooms are built by the local immigrant communities, who raised funds to build their rooms to honor their ancestries and countries of origin. She promptly invited me to head up a committee.

Maxine Bruhns is standing third from left. (From Deepak Wadhwani’s archives)

That is how the Indian Nationality Room’s destiny was set in motion. While forming our committee, Maxine was a great source of inspiration as she motivated us by sharing stories about how the other nationality rooms grew and developed. I was struck by her interests in various cultures, her indefatigable energy and her single-minded devotion to the Nationality Rooms program. The spirit of Ruth Crawford Mitchell was alive and well in Maxine!

From the beginning, the aim of our committee — at the time, consisting of Anu Reddy, Deepak Wadhwani, Saroj Bahl and myself — was to highlight India’s incredible unity and diversity. We showcased India’s cultures through art, dance, and music by hosting fundraising programs. Maxine attended all of them, dressed in strikingly colorful and culturally appropriate attire.

From beginning to end, she inspired us so much that we became the first Nationality Room committee to raise funds, design, build, and dedicate our room in under 8 years!  While the kudos for this feat go to the generosity of our beloved Indian community, Maxine was the fairy godmother who shepherded us through the various steps over the years.

The culmination was the dedication in January 2000. When I suggested a typical Indian way of inaugurating anything new with ceremonial blessings, Maxine watched delightedly as the stunning room, designed by Deepak Wadhwani, was blessed by religious representatives from India’s religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism.

The official dedication at Heinz Chapel followed by a delicious dinner in the evening were memorable occasions graced by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Naresh Chandra, India’s Ambassador to the U.S.

What else can I say about the indomitable Maxine? I learned much: her dedication, devotion, love of and for life, her wealth of experience and her insatiable curiosity about new and different things. My move to Texas kept us in touch for over two decades as she updated me on the new rooms, scholarship programs, and personal matters. I never stopped admiring this West Virginia-born-and-raised gal who left her mark on Pittsburgh and, through the Nationality Rooms Program, the world.

Who could have ever imagined that a chance encounter over a painting would lead to the construction of a Nationality Room and a relationship that endured for decades?! Maxine passed away on July 17, 2020 in Pittsburgh. She was 96. Rest in peace, dear Maxi!  END$$


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