By Laurie Pearson, Staff writer
Rowena Cox celebrates her 103rd birthday today (Jan. 16) at Bailey Manor surrounded by friends and admirers.
A very perky centenarian, Rowena has seen a lot of changes in more than a century.
She was born in Gilman City, Mo., “The northwest corner of the state, close to Kansas and Nebraska,” explained Rowena.
Her father was a livestock trader and appraiser of animals for the bank, and he also farmed. Rowena had an older sister who was more than seven years her senior. In their community, the family attended a little country church, where her father served as an elder, and also where her future husband went to church.
When Rowena was a youngster, she would ride a bay horse named Ribbon to and from school each day, even in the harshest of Missouri winters.
In those days, it wasn’t proper for girls to wear slacks, so she wore long bloomers under her dress when she rode. In the winter, her father would make sure she wore three pairs of gloves and two hats to keep her warm during the ride. The coldest day she remembered was minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It was the most despicable climate in the world,” Rowena said with a smile.
“My dad built a shack (for the horse) at the school,” she explained. That way, the horse would be sheltered from the weather and could have food and water while Rowena was in class.
Riding Ribbon to school lasted until she was about 11. It was then when her father taught her to drive his Model T to school. Her dad would crank up the car to charge the battery for her early in the morning since she didn’t have enough strength for that. Her father and his cousin owned some of the first cars in town. Rowena said she continued driving until she was nearly 100.
“I never had a ticket in my life,” she said proudly.
At 15, she went to business school. When she graduated, her first job was working for an attorney. She continued working for attorneys for many years.
She met her future husband, Walter, in school, though they also went to the same church. They were married on Oct. 10, 1931 when she was 21.
“We were engaged a long time,” she said.
Walter’s uncle was the manager of a Western Auto store, and so after school, Walter went to work for him. In 1948, Walter traveled to Fayetteville to open a Western Auto store, and he and Rowena decided to settle down here.
“We bought a house for cash,” said Rowena, noting that their first house was on Hillview Heights. “I’ve always been a cash person. Growing up in the Depression, I know how to economize.”
Although Walter died of heart-related problems a number of years ago, Rowena chose to stay here, even though she didn’t have family here, commented Elma Beasley, Rowena’s friend and member of the church.
“I liked the people and the church,” Rowena said.
She has been a member of the Washington Street Church of Christ since 1948.
Always a very active person, Rowena has enjoyed a wide range of interests.
“My hobby was traveling,” she said. Some of the countries she visited in years past include Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska and the Holy Land of Israel.
Reading and staying informed about current events, especially political news, are other favorite activities. She voted in the November elections by absentee ballot. She also loves to play Bridge and Duplicate Bridge and work crossword puzzles.
Preferring tailored suits to some of the clothing offered in stores, Rowena sewed her clothing, and at least on one occasion, made a suit for her husband.
These days she continues to stay active. She attends an exercise class and walks laps at Bailey Manor.
“She kicks the highest,” remarked Beasley, referring to the exercise class.
Beasley, who walked with her one day, asked her if she thought she had walked enough. But, Rowena let her know that they hadn’t walked a mile yet – “A mile is 5,280-feet,” Rowena told her.
“I never was one to be glued to a chair,” Rowena said, smiling.
In more than 100 years, she has rarely seen a doctor. A few years ago, she did see a doctor, who didn’t know how she kept herself in good health.
“I told him because I’ve never been to see you!” she laughed.
Rowena has never taken much medication, eats a lot of vegetables and doesn’t drink milk.
“She’s never had a broken bone, just a fractured collarbone once,” said Beasley.
Although she can’t do a lot of the things she once could, “She is content wherever she finds herself,” Beasley said.
“I think I’ve been blessed – that’s all I know,” Rowena concluded.