She didn't have the most promising start in life but Verree Fox has reached 100 years old. Fox has lived in Skyview Plaza in Morris for several years but was expected to move to the Legacy this past week.
"I was not quite three pounds and I lived," Fox said of her birth. "Nowadays they are in an incubator until they reach a (certain) weight."
Fox, who's first name is Bernice but who everyone calls by her middle name Verree, was born in Perham to a mother who served as a midwife. "When we got up in the morning and our mom wasn't there we knew that somebody had a new baby," Fox said.
Her mom's care made the difference when she was an infant, Fox said. "She knew what she was doing. She took good enough care of me so that I lived," Fox said.
But Fox's challenges weren't over. She contracted polio at 8. From age 8 to 12 she spent most of her days in Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul
"...for a long time I couldn't walk," Fox said. "I was in Gillette hospital learning how to walk again."
"Her parents dropped her off. They didn't know if she would live or die. She was all by herself," Fox's daughter Veree Dannen said.
Fox does remember her father carrying her around because she couldn't walk.
"I still think I'm pretty darn lucky to be the way I am when you get polio and can't walk," Fox said. "It took me four years to learn to walk and do all the kids things..."
"Sometimes, I'd get a little mad, when you can't do what the rest of the kids are doing," Fox said.
Fox did learn to walk but still had some effects from polio. But she never wanted to be considered handicapped by the disease, she and her children said.
"Because of how strong she was herself, she taught us a different way of looking at everything," Dannen said.
On April 3, most of her children gathered at Skyview Plaza to celebrate Fox's birthday with other Skyview residents. An open house celebration with more family and friends was set for April 6.
Fox was the mother of a blended family after the death of her first husband and during her second marriage. Fox was living on farms near Hancock during both marriages. She had four children, Larry Nelson, Verree Dannen, Bonnie Martens and Phil Bailey, with her first husband Allie Bailey. After he died she married Ezra Fox. The couple had Gloria Zeltwanger and Faye Lee. Ezra Fox also had a daughter Donnabelle Taylor from his first marriage.
"We weren't half-brothers and sisters or stepbrothers and stepsisters--we were just brothers and sisters," daughter Faye Lee said.
"I never, ever thought about that," Fox said of the blended family. "They all got raised by the same mother."
While living on the farm and raising a family, Fox tended a big vegetable garden, cared for a large flower garden, baked and cooked.
"There was always the smell of homemade bread in the house," son Phil Bailey said.
"I thought we were poor because we never had store-bought clothes," daughter Bonnie Martens said. She found out later that her mom was a skilled seamstress who made better clothes than what was available in a store.
Her children said that Fox instilled a deep spiritual faith in her children through her own example. "Every Sunday we went to church," Fox said.
After raising her family and the death of her husband in 1977, Fox has stayed busy. She frequently travels to Texas. She returned by plane in March after spending two months with Dannen.
Fox said the plane's crew and passengers learned her birthday was coming up and that she'd be 100. "Everybody on the plane as they got off, said 'Happy Birthday.'"
Martens had a career in the Navy. "Whereever I was stationed, she'd come there," Martens said. Fox often spent a month with her daughter.
Martens is 70 and has retired to Florida. Her mom was making trips around the country and to Florida at 70. "I'm 70 and if my mom could drive to Florida (to see her) there is no reason at my age I can't drive back and forth from Florida," Martens said.
Spending time with family is important, Martens and her siblings said. That's another thing their mother taught them.