Maxine Allen lived quietly with her husband Frank for years in their Fox Point home, and after Frank died in 2004, she rarely was seen outside the house.
She took the bus to her hairdresser and accepted help from a neighbor, who took her grocery shopping. Maxine Allen always used coupons, buying only sale and generic items, said neighbor Karen Wahlberg.
Frugal and independent, Allen "was a loner. Just stayed at home, day in or day out," Wahlberg said. "I thought she was penniless."
Allen, who died at age 85 in February 2008, left an estate worth $3.1 million - with about $2 million bequeathed to Milwaukee County in what may be the largest unrestricted gift ever given to the county. The State of Wisconsin will get the rest, after fees for lawyers and bankers are deducted.
Unlike most such gifts, the money from Allen comes with no strings attached, no favorite program or service designated. Her will says only that her entire estate should be divided with three-fourths going to the county and one-fourth to the state.
Her late husband's will had the same language. Frank J. Allen died in 2004.
The couple had no children and no heirs were found, according to probate court records.
One clue as to the reason for the couple's unusual charity: Frank Allen worked for 24years as a court reporter for Milwaukee County, retiring in 1973.
Wahlberg surmised Frank Allen's devotion to the county may be why the couple decided to turn over most of their substantial nest egg to the county. Even longtime county employees, such as Circuit Judge Michael Guolee and former District Attorney E. Michael McCann, said they couldn't recall Allen.
Wahlberg described Frank Allen as reserved, but friendly, responding only after she greeted him in the neighborhood. The couple never attended the local block party, even though it was held in the street directly in front of the Allen home on W. Suburban Court, Wahlberg said.
J. Patrick Ronan, an attorney representing Maxine Allen's estate, declined to comment on reasons for the gift.
State Budget Director Dave Schmiedicke couldn't be reached Thursday. The state's high six-figure gift comes as the state faces a $5.4 billion budget deficit over the next two years.
The gift to the county makes an even bigger splash, given its much smaller budget. A $1.1 million check from Allen's estate was sent to the county in December and about $1 million more is expected later this year, said county Corporation Counsel Bill Domina. The County Board's finance committee is being asked next week to approve placing the first check in the county's contingency fund.
County Budget Director Steve Kreklow said the Allen cash will be used to pay down the county's 2008 year-end deficit. The county was projected to end the year with a $1.7 million deficit, in a tally done Oct. 31.
The first payment from the Allen estate "came at a great time when we certainly needed it," Kreklow said. Unusually high overtime costs and the failure of the county to sell any of its Park East Freeway parcels have been blamed for the potential year-end shortfall.
By law, the county must operate with a balanced budget. In practice, that means if there is some red ink after all the bills and checks for a year are processed, money from the next year's budget must be first spent on balancing the prior year's budget.
County Executive Scott Walker said the gift came as a pleasant surprise and would probably be even more useful in helping out future county budgets. He said because of Maxine Allen's apparent wish for giving anonymously, it was doubtful the county would publicly acknowledge her generosity.
Publicly filed court documents described the gifts.
Wahlberg said she became better acquainted with Maxine Allen after her husband died, helping with various chores. When Allen needed a new washing machine, Wahlberg helped her shop for one and also helped her fill out a rebate form on the purchase, the neighbor said. Wahlberg said she also helped Allen, who never learned to drive, sell her husband's car.
The one extravagance the couple allowed themselves was an annual cruise on a luxury liner, Wahlberg said. Allen took one cruise after her husband died but retreated more to her house in her final years, Wahlberg said.
Wahlberg said she was shocked to learn of the large estate left by her neighbor - and how she chose to dispose of it.
"I hope the county spends it wisely," she said.
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