Life story of 91-year-old Marge Maddux reveals glimpses of Chico’s past
Marge Coutolenc Maddux’s husband, Dick, died of pancreatic cancer five years ago, just two days after the couple’s 65th anniversary. Of their long marriage, Maddux, 91, said, “We were so very lucky to always be interested in the same things.”
For instance, they loved sports and musical comedy. “We saw every stage show there was in San Francisco,” she said. “And, you know, there were common, ordinary, simple things we shared.”
They cared deeply about Chico, the community where they met, got married and raised a son. Maddux’s ties to Butte County run deep. Her grandfather founded the Ridge settlement of Coutolenc, which will be a topic during an hour-long talk by Maddux on Saturday (Oct. 22) at the Chico Museum as part of an ongoing speaker series guided by local historian Dave Nopel.
His father, the late John Nopel, was lifelong friends with Maddux. Lately, she and Nopel have been poring over boxes of her family pictures. “We wanted to document it all while she’s still here,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience that has brought Marge and I much closer together.” Maddux, he says, is a veritable treasure trove of local knowledge.
On a recent autumn morning, the CN&R visited her farm house in an old almond orchard north of Chico. In the front yard, birds winged and chirped over a flower bed leading to her porch. Inside, over cookies and coffee, Maddux slowly sketched her story.
Maddux’s grandfather, Eugene Fortunat Coutolenc, was a settler who relocated from the French Alps. He suffered from a respiratory illness and ended his search for clean, fresh air in the settlement of Lovelock on the Ridge above Magalia. The town was renamed Coutelenc in 1890, and around the turn of the 20th century, it was home to a post office, saloon, hotel and grocery store. Not much is left now aside from a cemetery.
Coutolenc moved his family to Chico in 1909 to provide his children with better education. They purchased a building at 1250 Esplanade—now occupied by Red Tavern—and opened Chico Vecino Meat Market. In those days, that neighborhood was known as Vecino—“not the avenues,” Maddux said. “That’s a newer thing.”
Maddux was born in 1925. She was a voracious reader as a child, likely because the Butte County Library was next door to her home. “I’d always come running down the stairs to the library,” she said. “I was in there all the time. I think I read every book.” As a teenager, she attended Chico High School and became a cheerleader. During her sophomore year, she met a boy named Seldon Maddux, a baseball and basketball star who went by the nickname Dick.
“This young athlete asked me for a date,” she recalled. They started going steady. Dick lived just down the block, on the corner of Second Avenue and The Esplanade, where they met each morning and walked to school.
They were still dating when they were seniors in December 1941. Maddux vividly remembers Dec. 8—the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor—when students gathered in the hallways to listen as President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war on Japan.
They graduated in the spring of 1942 and Dick enlisted in the U.S. Navy Air Corps. Meanwhile, Maddux attended Chico State and completed the classes prerequisite to enroll at the UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy. She graduated in the fall of 1945, at the end of World War II, and returned to Chico.
She married Dick in 1946. Their only child, Michael, was born in 1950 and was baptized at Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Dick taught chemistry at Chico High and she pursued a career as a pharmacist, which was considered unusual for a young woman.
In 1951, the late local pharmacist George Stebbins offered her a job, albeit skeptically. “George said, ‘I have never worked with a woman pharmacist before. You can probably fill the prescriptions, but I don’t know if you can do the stock work.’” That became a running joke over the next 14 years as Maddux proved herself more than capable. Stebbins and his partner, Marsh Pine, eventually offered her partial ownership of the now-defunct Terrace Pharmacy.
“That was an extraordinary thing, in the 1960s, to offer a young woman a partnership,” she said. It lasted for four decades.
Upon reflection, Maddux says she’s grateful to have maintained such long, fruitful relationships. “I’ve had so many people help me as I went along,” she said. In an effort to give back to the community, scholarships in the Maddux name are available for students at Chico High and Chico State.
Maddux is frail now and doesn’t move well; her niece helps her put on shoes and go outside. She stays sharp, however, by completing a Jumble puzzle every morning. And her son, Michael—now a globe-trotting pharmaceutical industry executive—calls her every day, even from Saudi Arabia or China, and reminds her to eat something nutritious for lunch.
With her son away and husband gone, Maddux needs someone to tend to her yard. She hired a local gardener who usually sticks around for a cookie or apple pie when the day’s work is done.
“The other day, I said to him, ‘You know, I don’t do anything anymore. All I have now is my birds and my flowers.’ And he said, ‘Marge, what else is there?’”