While she lost her battle with cancer a year before Clinton County Showcase was formed in 1991, Maxine Bruegge is one of the reasons the community theater organization exists.
Maxine Bruegge grew up in Pasadena, Texas. After college, she met her husband, Bob Bruegge, when they were both working in Houston. They married and moved to his hometown of Breese, IL.
One of the first members of the Breese Junior Woman’s Club, formed in 1979, Maxine grabbed a new resident, Lynn Venhaus, to join the group in 1980. They worked together on many projects, serving successive terms as presidents in 1982-83 and 1983-84.
In the summer of 1982, Maxine helped get Lynn’s idea for a children’s summer theater off the ground. Maxine worked part-time as a substitute teacher and Lynn worked at area newspapers, so they were familiar with students and various school productions. Maxine had a music background. She minored in music at Sam Houston College.
The BJWC sponsored the first program — two one-act plays and a selection of musical numbers — one night under a pavilion at the Breese North Park performed by a small group of students. Lynn directed and Maxine helped backstage.
In summer of 1983, a more ambitious project was launched — the musical “The Wizard of Oz” was presented for two performances — one night and a day matinee. Lynn directed and Maxine was the music director. The BJWC sponsored it and members worked behind the scenes.
The next summer, Lynn was pregnant and working at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Maxine had two young daughters. They decided they must take a break, and no one else wanted to take over the project.
Maxine would later find out she had cancer. Initial treatment was effective, but it returned in 1987, and she spent the next two years in and out of hospitals.
In spring 1989, Lynn resurrected the summer children’s theater program. Maxine’s health prevented her from helping, but she was always supportive.
In January 1990, at the age of 38, Maxine died.
That summer Lynn suggested BJWC tackle a bigger show to give more students an opportunity. So, BJWC mounted “Bye Bye Birdie” with Lynn as director, for two evening shows the first weekend of August. Students from Central, Mater Dei and Carlyle High School came to auditions.
Two of Dr. Jonathan Osborn’s children were eager to be part of the singing and dancing chorus. Dr. Osborn was very happy that his kids were having such a ball. He was not just one of Maxine’s doctors he was her friend, too.
The afternoon of the opening Friday night performance at the park, Lynn was at Dr. Osborn’s with her ill toddler, Charlie. Dr. Osborn said he wanted to do something in Maxine’s memory, and suggested giving an award in her name. He and Lynn came up with the scholarship, decided to honor someone for talent, and thus the Maxine Bruegge Memorial Talent Scholarship was created. He wrote a check out for $250, and told Lynn to pick the student. He would make it an annual gift.
Lynn revealed the big secret to BJWC members who were helping with the show. She asked for their help in deciding what student would be the first honoree. They all agreed on Crystal Roseberry of Breese as the first recipient of the Maxine Bruegge Memorial Talent Scholarship.
That Friday afternoon, it looked like rain was headed toward Breese and the show wouldn’t go on, but Lynn prayed to Maxine, and the dark clouds broke, giving way to the sun. That began the tradition of praying to Maxine in case inclement weather threatens (she can’t always work miracles, but she’s helped!).
After the last performance Saturday night, Lynn gave a tribute to Maxine and announced Crystal as the first recipient of the scholarship. People in the audience were in tears. Crystal was in tears. It was a very emotional night.
Maxine’s friends and family were very touched that she would be honored in this way.
After the formation of Clinton County Showcase in the spring of 1991 Dr. Osborn and BJWC agreed to transfer the Maxine Bruegge Memorial Talent Scholarship to the new organization.
The first CCS recipient of the Maxine Bruegge Memorial Talent Scholarship was Casey Hayes of Carlyle the award was announced on the closing night in the park, a Sunday evening where it continues to be given out each year and sponsored by Dr. Jonathan Osborn and his partners in the Clinton County Rural Health Clinic.