Maxine Sauter, 70, dies at home

Maxine Sauter, the colorful and popular Island County Treasurer who was just finishing her fourth consecutive term in office, was found dead at her Oak Harbor home Tuesday morning.

According to the Island County Sheriff’s office, 70-year-old Sauter was found by co-worker Linda Root sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Root regularly picked Sauter up at her home in Oak Harbor’s Conniston Way in order to car pool to her county office in Coupeville.

A memorial service is planned for Sauter at the Methodist Church in Oak Harbor Monday, Nov. 25, at 1 p.m. She will be buried next to her husband, Lou, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Russ Lindner, Island County chief criminal deputy, said there was nothing suspicious about Sauter’s death.

“It was probably caused by some sort of medical condition,” Lindner said Tuesday morning. “But that will be determined for sure by an autopsy,” he added.

Sauter was a 16-year veteran of the treasurer’s office known by many for her feisty phrase, “Never has a penny gone missing!” Originally hailing from the East Coast, Sauter spent some time as a financial manager on Wall Street before moving to the Northwest.

She recently was defeated in her bid for a fifth term by Democrat Linda Riffe, a local school administrator, after a controversial race that made issue of reports by the state auditor that Sauter’s office lacked sufficient financial controls.

Despite the campaign controversy, Sauter was a much beloved figure throughout Island County, well-known for her charitable and community-building activities, and especially for her abiding love of animals. Sauter was a founding member of Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation (WAIF) in Island County and NOAH, an animal shelter on Camano Island.

Sauter mortgaged her house to help construct the WAIF building and was on the board of directors until five years ago.

Rick Renouard at the treasurer’s office said Sauter could be a generous boss. She brought in cakes for employees’ birthdays and often presented them with a Beanie Baby.

“During really busy times,” he said, “she would bring in pizza or donuts.”

Harry Ferrier, who was county auditor from 1981 to 1990, said Sauter impressed him by cleaning up the treasurer’s office in the 1980s.

“She did a vastly greater job than her predecessor,” he said, “in getting money in the bank and getting it invested.”

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said he was a long-time friend of Sauter, since well before he was first elected to serve in 1996.

“I’ve been friends with Maxine for a long time,” McDowell said from his office Tuesday afternoon. “She’s always been a good friend, and has done a good job for the citizens of Island County for 16 years.”

McDowell acknowledged Sauter’s deep concern for the welfare of all animals. “She’s always been a huge supporter of animals, having been a founder of WAIF,” he said.

McDowell added that he and his family will miss Sauter deeply.

“She was involved in many things in the county and always had political support from the whole island,” he said.

Susan Berta of the non-profit Orca Network said Sauter was a “true and dedicated” supporter of the organization, which involves citizens in helping researchers track the movement of whales. Berta said it’s important to realize the great extent to which Sauter’s life was dedicated to helping animals in every way she possibly could.

“Maxine always spoke out for what she believed in, and was a strong voice and advocate for animals who could not speak for themselves,” Berta said. “Her spunk and unending enthusiasm and encouragement have lifted our spirits over the past seven years while we worked on the Lolita campaign and other orca issues.”

Berta said Sauter was always talking about how deeply touched she was by orcas, adding that she gave members of the organization a lot of loyal support and encouragement both in their personal and professional lives.

“We will miss her very deeply, and know the community has suffered a great loss,” Berta said.

Shari Bibich, director of WAIF’s Coupeville animal shelter, said she was “shocked and saddened” by news of Sauter’s death. She added that Sauter had two dogs, a collie recently rescued from questionable conditions in a Camano Island puppy mill as well as a sheltie.

“We will miss her,” Bibich said.

News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland and South Whidbey Record reporter Gayle Saran contributed to this article.

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