Sunday, June 11, 2017

From World War 2 to Barbecue (And everything in-between!), This Shero did it all

Maxine Sykes

“She was doing the right thing and she was going to make it no matter what the men said, or the obstacles that were thrown in front of her. She said she always knew she would make it in the end,” Van Skyes remembers his mother Maxine Sykes as he reminisces on her life, and her legacy.
Maxine and her son, Van
Van, now 62, tells a captivating story of a Shero with passion, determination, and a lot of perseverance in a time that was anything but easy.
Maxine Helen Deerman was born on April 10, 1921. From a young age, Maxine was a worker.
Her love of entrepreneurship began at age nine during the Great Depression as she began selling biscuits on the street. “I think it sparked something in her. Somewhere in there, there was a little seed planted,” Van says.
She later started working at a grocery store, where she met Bob, the bread man that later became her husband.
Soon after Maxine and Bob were married, he was sent off to fight in the war. For the first 3 years of their marriage, they hardly saw each other.
Maxine became apart of the Civilian Workforce, which was largely women with a few men. She later became a part of making aircrafts, in which she was especially talented.
However, after the men came back in 1945 after the war was over, the women lost all of their jobs. “But there were women who didn’t want to stay home and wash the clothes,” Van states.
In 1967, Maxine and Bob finally decided to go into business- together. They decided to open a cafe, and traded equity from their car for a one year lease in the building. “That was the generation’s source of pride,” Van says. “My momma loved cars.”
Maxine and her husband, Bob
To start out their cafe, Maxine went around looking for construction sites so she could hand menus to the workers.  Van laughs, “My daddy would have never done that- she’s the one that understood we had to have some revenue.”
After Bob worked at KFC, they started their resturaunt. “My daddy knew he could do with barbecue what they were doing with chicken,” Van states. This was beginning of something much larger than either of them could have ever dreamed.
They wanted to lease where an ice-cream place was located, and it was because of Maxine that they obtained that spot. She was the one that convinced the the man to let them start their restaurant there, but he had a catch.
They had to break the blue law- which said that nothing was allowed to be open on Sunday. She told him that they had a partner they were working with named Jesus Christ, and that he “didn’t do the Sunday thing,” Van says.
They created 14 franchises, and became wildly popular.
However, in March 1970, Bob had a debilitating stroke. He never talked again and was paralyzed on his right side. This was a horrible time for the family “This is where the hero part comes in- this is where mom earns her wings,” Van says.
Everyone in Maxine’s life was telling her to give up. Van says, “People were telling her, you know you can’t do this- this is humanly impossible.”
Despite the opinions, Maxine decided to continue with the family business, for Van and Bob. “The source of her strength wasn’t stubbornness or foolishness, it was faith,” Van says.
However, when Maxine needed a loan, she was declined because Bob was not present. It was like 1945 all over again. Van states, “If you had an idea and ambition you could get started. The only thing that would hold you back is that you had to have a man attached.”
Maxine found a male friend who helped her obtain the loan, and she ran the business as long as she could.
Although Bob died in 1992, he was unable to help Maxine since his stroke in 1970, which made Maxine the head person at Bob Skyes Bar-B-Q. Maxine signed her checks ‘Mrs. Bob Sykes.’ She said, ‘I worked hard for that name.’
Maxine passed away in 2014 at age 93, but her impact on her son continues to inspire him, and many others.
On her gravestone, Van wrestled with an epitaph but finally decided on “Wife, Mother, Entrepreneur.”
Van gets choked up telling his mother’s story. “It was a strong woman that made me who I am today,” he said.
Upon asking Van what Maxine would say to women today struggling to get their business going, Van said “She would say persevere– just keep going. She had the door shut on her face so many times in so many different ways.”
Maxine often mentioned that her name was never in lights. Bob surprised her one with a clock outside of the restaurant that had both of their names in neon lights.  He told her “Well there you go, your name is now  in lights”.  To this day, you can still find the clock hanging inside of this restaurant.
The clock still hangs in the restaurant today
“Mama always said she succeeded in a man’s world,” Van recalls. And what a true statement that is.
Maxine Skyes was a business woman, a family woman, and a woman of Faith. Perhaps we can all learn something from her, like Van did. “Everything that I do goes back to what she taught me all those years,” Van stated.
Because of this one woman’s courageous actions and perseverance, she achieved more than anyone thought possible, and influenced everyone that knew her. To this day, her story inspires young women all over the world, some that never even had the opportunity to meet her- like myself.
Hearing Van’s story of his mother truly moved me, so I hope her story inspires you to chase your dreams, even when they seem impossible. Maxine sure did.
**This was an article I wrote for my summer blogging internship at Girlspring but I wanted to share it on my personal blog as well because it was such an inspirational and moving story. I thank Van for sharing his story with me of his mother, as I had the privilege of speaking with him. 

No comments:

Post a Comment