Maxine Grimm was seated in a tall comfortable chair in the lobby of the Rocky Mountain Care center Monday afternoon.
In a bright and flowing purple dress, Grimm sat ready to pose for a photograph to celebrate her 100th birthday with a broad smile that seemed to emanate more from her heart than her face.
The floral pattern in her dress evoked the scent of a warm Pacific Island breeze, Grimm’s adopted home.
Grimm’s quiet composure contrasts her 100 years of a whirlwind life that stretched across historical epochs and the spanned the globe.
She has entertained presidents, governors, generals and prophets, but never lost touch with her faith or her roots as small town girl from Tooele, Utah.
Born on the eve of the First World War and one year after the Lincoln Highway opened Tooele County to Ford’s Model T, Grimm came into this world May 18, 1914, in Tooele, the oldest child of Joseph Earl and Bertha Shields Tate.
Grimm can trace her roots in Tooele County back to four great-grandfathers who walked across the plains with the LDS pioneers.
John Shields and Samuel Lee, who laid out the first boundaries of Tooele City, were two of Grimm’s grandfathers.
For Grimm her pioneer heritage has not been a matter of station or privilege, but a source of respect and duty.
“My great-grandparents walked across the plains and helped settle Tooele,” Grimm said. “They left behind beautiful homes and comfortable circumstances to come to this area. They sacrificed all they had to build the first houses, churches and schools in Tooele. Throughout my life, I have been very mindful of my ancestors, and I have tried in every way possible to carry on traditions they started.”
Grimm recalls her childhood in Tooele as a happy time, although her family, like most others in Tooele at the time, was poor, she said.
As a teenager during the Great Depression, her wardrobe consisted of just two dresses — one for Sundays and another for every other day.
Back in Grimm’s youthful days, Tooele was more than a half-hour drive from downtown Salt Lake City. Tooele’s remote rural setting lent itself to strong community bonds as its inhabitants survived by developing their own brand of self-sufficiency, Grimm said.
“The town was small, it was a lot like a big family,” said Grimm. “Everybody pitched in and helped each other. I remember my Grandmother Lottie Shields taking care of everyone in town who was sick. People took care of people and there was a wonderful, caring feeling in the community.”
Entertainment was also much simpler in early Tooele, Grimm said.
During the winter, Grimm and her friends would slide down Main Street on pieces of cardboard because they couldn’t afford sleds.
“There was no traffic,” Grimm said. “The only thing in the way were the power poles that ran down the middle of the street.”
She graduated in 1932 from Tooele High School as valedictorian. Her college education was delayed for a while by the death of her mother. Grimm stayed home to care for her younger brother and sister.
Grimm eventually continued her education at the University of Utah and graduated in 1937 with a degree in retailing and business, and four minors; music, drama, physical education and French.
After her college graduation, Grimm went on to attend New York University on a scholarship, where she obtained a master’s degree in retailing.
Upon completion of her studies at NYU she came home to Utah to work as a buyer for department store chain ZCMI.
In 1939, just as World War II was breaking out in Europe, Grimm married her childhood sweetheart, Veldon Shields.
The couple made a home in Salt Lake City where Shields worked as an attorney, but Grimm’s future with Shields was cut short.
Seven months after their marriage, June 7, 1940, Shields passed away unexpectedly in a Salt Lake City hospital from natural causes.
The heartbreak was tremendous, Grimm said, since she grew up with Veldon and they were very close.
With a heavy heart, Grimm returned to New York where she immersed herself in work, which along with her faith, helped overcome her loss.
In New York, she worked as the secretary to the president of the Retail Association of New York.
Grimm’s boss was Jewish and very influential in New York City. As war engulfed Europe he was working on smuggling Jewish people out and finding them a place in New York.
Grimm, as his secretary, got involved in helping him.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, when the United States entered the war, Grimm felt a desire to do something to help her country, so she joined the Red Cross. In 1942 she was assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, then to New Guinea to work in a hospital before being sent on to the Philippines, where she helped organize a refuge camp.
Her main assignment in the Red Cross was to build morale in U.S. soldiers, working as a recreational director and vocational therapist.
As the war ended, Grimm took over the infamous Tokyo Rose’s studio and broadcast — which she used to do public relations work for the Red Cross as well promote her LDS faith.
Grimm met future LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley when, on one of her trips back to Utah, she went to Salt Lake to pick up some records of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to play on her radio show.
Later Grimm assisted Hinckley in establishing the LDS Church in the post-war Republic of the Philippines where she lived with her new husband, U.S. Army Colonel and Manila-based entrepreneur Edward Miller “Pete” Grimm, whom she met in the Phlippines during the war and married in 1947.
The Grimm’s home was the location for early church activities in the Philippines. Most of the first LDS baptisms were performed in the Grimm’s swimming pool.
Through the years following the war, they lived in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Before the war, Pete Grimm had a business in water transportation, regulating ports. After the war he recovered that business and maintained interests in mining, pearl farming and other endeavors that called for a lot of traveling, Maxine said.
The Grimms entertained generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower.
Every LDS Church president since David O. McKay has either visited the Grimms in the Philippines or at their home in Tooele.
Maxine returned home to Tooele to give birth to her two children, Linda and Pete, then returned overseas after they were born.
Pete Grimm passed away in 1977 while they were living in the Philippines.
Traveling back and forth for 11 years, Maxine Grimm eventually settled down in Tooele in 1988 at the age of 74, in a home she and Pete Grimm built.
Since returning to Tooele, Grimm’s life has been full of devotion to her family, church, community and state.
She has served as a member of the BYU Roundtable, chairwoman of the Tooele County Museum, a member of the Salt Lake Opera board, and chairwoman of the Utah State Centennial Commission.
Grimm was instrumental in preserving the Benson Gristmill property. She helped write the script for and performed in the Benson Gristmill Pageant, which tells the story of the settling of Tooele Valley.
She was chairman of Tooele County’s Safe at Home committee, a neighborhood watch program in 2005.
In 2007, Grimm, who was chairperson for the Utah Attorney General’s Safe at Home Committee, was honored as Citizen of the Year by the Tooele City Police Department for her many years of service.
At age 96, Grimm was active in the Tooele community’s battle against the proposed Rocky Mountain Power Line route across the east bench of Tooele, testifying at public meetings.
“I feel I was born to serve,” said Grimm. “I need to continue what my ancestors that settled this valley did — make it a beautiful and peaceful place.”
Now, at 100 years old, Grimm shares her secret for longevity.
“You have to exercise your body, your mind and your spirit every day,” Grimm said.
“And play little piano every day too,” she added with a smile.