Unsung hero: Still volunteering at age 97
Four days a week, Harriet Cox spends hours at the Family Support Council’s Thrift Shop in Gardnerville. Four days a week, Marge Hofmann can also be found at the Thrift Shop. Judy McCormick is also at the thrift shop four days a week, with her 1-year-old son tagging along.
All three women are volunteers. However, what’s remarkable is that they are three generations a the same family that tries to make a difference in other people’s lives.
As the matriarch of the family, Cox, who will be 98 on Jan. 1, is a powerhouse. Five to six hours each day she is sorting clothes, putting them on hangers and bustling around the store.
“This isn’t work. I don’t do any work. I’m not doing anything special,” said Cox.
Yet Kim Marcott, who works at the thrift shop, disagrees.
“Harriet is my hero. When I told her I was attending the candlelight vigil for domestic violence, she said she wanted to go, and she walked my legs off,” said Marcott. “Harriet is an amazing woman who just goes, goes, goes all day long.”
Although age has affected Harriet’s hearing, she isn’t letting life pass her by. Every day she embraces something new. Just last week she signed up for aerobics classes at a local fitness center.
“My husband has been encouraging us to get some exercise, so we just decided to do it,” said Hofmann, Cox’s daughter. “My mom’s balance isn’t the best, so I hold on to her as we both exercise.”
– New adventures. Two years ago Cox attended the camel races in Virginia City.
“She just had to ride one of those camels,” said Hofmann. “They told us that she was the oldest person they have ever had ride one.”
“I wanted to know what it was like. I’ve ridden horses before, but never a camel. I didn’t like it near as much,” said Cox.
When Cox was in her 80s, one of her grandsons offered a ride on his motorcycle. Cox hopped on the back.
“She loved it,” said Hofmann. “He took her in the back country and along dirt roads.”
“It was fun, but then I’ve always liked to do things like that. I don’t let age stop me,” said Cox.
Cox is a native of California, born near Escalon. She is the lone survivor of a family of four boys and three girls. Her father owned a dairy and as a child Cox milked cows and worked in the hay fields. She rode or drove her horse, Black Beauty, to school every day.
“I called my horse Black Beauty because he was just so beautiful,” said Cox. But one day one of the boys at school agitated the horse, causing him to shy away whenever Cox tried to get him in the harness.
“I was so mad I took a buggy whip after that boy,” said Cox. “He ran home crying to his daddy, but when his daddy found out what he had done, he said I did that right thing.”
As a baby, Cox had diphtheria, which weakened her eyes, and she had to wear glasses until she was in high school. She wears them again now, but they help her see the elegant uniform stitches she uses in making exquisite works-of-art pillows and quilts.
Each patchwork design is hand crafted, hand sewn and hand embroidered.
“A pillow takes about two days, the quilts, of course, a lot longer,” said Cox. “I make them for friends and for family. Each one tells a little story.”
– Helping hand. Volunteering has always been part of Cox’s philosophy of life. During the war years, she made bandages for the troops, as many women of that time did. In times of crisis or need, she was the first one to offer a helping hand to neighbors and friends, and through her church, she has been involved with charity work for over 50 years.
Cox has been helping at the thrift store for two years.
“I was looking for something enriching to do and came across the thrift store,” said Hofmann. “My mom moved in with us soon after, and she said, ‘I would like to do that.'”
At the thrift store, Cox sorts clothes and puts them on hangers, and, according to Karen Edwards, executive director of Family Support Council, when Cox is headed in your direction, you’d better move out of the way.
“Harriet puts her head down like a person with a mission and tackles her work with enthusiasm,” said Edwards. “She is hard of hearing, so she can’t tell if you are moving in her direction. The best thing to do is to step aside and let her through.”
Cox attributes her productive life to leading a balanced lifestyle. She walks a mile almost every day and works out on a walking machine. She eats a vegetarian diet, and she strictly adheres to the philosophies of her church.
“We believe in NEW START, which means nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in the divine power,” said Hofmann.
Cox also keeps current on world and national news by reading newspapers every morning.
“You’ve got to keep up on what’s going on,” said Cox. “I may be old, but I’m not useless.”
– Big hearted. Hofmann said that her mother is completely self-sufficient. Her bedroom is on the second floor, and the steps don’t slow her for a second.
“And she cooks when I let her,” said Hofmann. “But she moves through the kitchen so fast, that I think she is going to hurt herself. She calls it foolishness.”
Cox is petite in stature and large of heart. Edwards calls Cox amazing.
“Harriet is a determined, honest person, who speaks her mind, and I think she could be an incentive to other seniors her age who have the energy to contribute, but don’t think that they can be productive,” said Edwards. “Harriet spreads the message that seniors aren’t too old to get out and do something. There are many organizations in the community that would welcome her help. Harriet is an inspiration to them all.”