It is hard to say who enjoys the activities more — the students or Maxine Ames. Ames –now 90 years old — has been one of, if not the most, enthusiastic supporters of Sparta special education students for over 16 years.
Ames, who lives in Grand Rapids, has been a regular presence in classrooms district-wide since she began volunteering in her grandson, Dylan Fryman’s kindergarten class.
It is impossible to count the number of activities and field trips she’s been on, from cheering students at Special Olympics competitions or horseback riding to handing out treats at classroom parties. “All I know,” she said, “is that if they had something special going on, I was there.”
She has distinct memories about activities. “I didn’t like ice skating much,” she said. “Roller skating is better — there are four wheels under you and it is much more stable.”
Swimming and ‘Glo Bowling,’ an event with neon lights and music, were two of her favorites. Ames recalled bowling parties with her grandson’s class. “I remember that,” said Dylan, 21, who was just 6 years old when his grandmother first came to one of his school events.
“I remember it too,” said Ames. “It was such fun, with all of the kids dancing. You,” she said to Dylan,” should come someday and dance with me in my kitchen again.”
Ames’ father died when she was only 5 years old and she was raised by a single mom. She said her motivation to give to children comes from that experience. “I knew what it was like when a parent couldn’t do everything for you, so I always wanted to help out. And today it is hard for parents even if there are two.”
Sparta Appleview Elementary special education teacher Lynelle Geers cannot remember a time that Ames wasn’t part of her classroom. “She always had and still has such incredible energy and love for the kids,” said Geers, who was Dylan’s kindergarten teacher.
“She is amazing — with her love for the kids and what she does for all of the classrooms in this school,” added Jan Scott, who works as a classroom aide and was in the special education room at Sparta Middle School when Dylan was a student there.
In addition to regular visits and help in the classrooms, each of the special education rooms in the district from elementary through high school have received back-to-school gift boxes every year since Ames first stepped into the district.
Hot Deals and Wheels
Despite the legendary stories Geers and others tell about her big Suburban, Ames gave up driving a year ago. “I loved it,” she said of her car. “I called it ‘Red.’ It was big and tough and I could get a lot into it.”
Still, she enjoys shopping and spends a lot of time walking through stores looking for bargains — especially school supplies. When asked about her favorite place to shop, she said, “Well, anywhere someone will take me is fine, but I do like looking for the good deals.”
Boxes are filled with things she knows the children will use, like crayons and pencils. “I don’t bring paper much anymore, because there are so many kinds and I don’t know what the children will like,” she said. “But I do try to find those things that close up (folders) the high school kids use and like.”
Ames delivers supplies to special education classrooms every year and returning students know to look for her special gift — Hot Wheel vehicles.
Every gift basket for school is well stocked with Hot Wheels.
“If the kids like them, they might work a little harder to get them,” she said. Geers agrees and says she sometimes uses the cars as motivation. If a child finishes a task they can spend some time with the cars or even open a new one.
While Ames gives away many, many cars, she is an avid Hot Wheel collector herself. Her daughter, Trish Burns, estimates she has 5,000 or more in her personal collection. “I don’t care what my children do with them; they can donate them to schools, the hospital or wherever,” she said.
A Little Background
Ames grew up in Grand Rapids and first attended Stocking School, after which she attended a school in Marne for awhile. Her first job was a cashier at Kresge and Company, in downtown Grand Rapids.
She raised eight children; seven of “my own,” she said. Mishell Fryman, Dylan’s mother, was number eight, but technically her granddaughter. While her children were in school, she was also active in the schools, volunteering to teach the students cake decorating. “She was amazing at making cakes and made all of our wedding cakes,” said Burns.
She also has worked with the Foresters, a financial group that raises money for charities. In addition to purchasing school supplies for Sparta, Ames has demonstrated her heart for children by giving to the Santa Claus Girls and other local organizations.