With wheels on her heels, 90-year-old Rona Cox
has spent a lifetime rolling through life and serving her country.
Approximately 400,000 women enlisted with the armed forces during World War II. Cox, a former resident of Evergreen Park, is one of them. Her two-year stint had such an impact, she continued to serve as a volunteer for 63 years with an unflinching dedication at the American Legion Post. The first 10 were served in Hometown and the final 53 at Post 854 in Evergreen Park, where she remained until retiring in December.
And she was a pretty good roller skater, too.
Even at 90-years-old, Cox is vibrant and lucid. She said, “I’ve spent my entire life being active. I didn’t retire from skating until I was 83. At that age, had I fallen, I would have been finished off in a wheelchair somewhere.”
For nearly 70 years on roller skates, Cox said she never had an injury. “Nothing kept me from rolling.’’ Cox said.
In addition to volunteering, Cox worked full-time while raising her two children, Dave Cox of Lemont and Patricia Morrin of Chicago. She said her mother, Helen Reynolds, offered a tremendous amount of support. Reynolds moved the year Dave was born in 1952 and didn’t leave until she died in 1985. Having family support allowed Cox to offer more than what most could give. She said, “If I couldn’t be totally committed. I didn’t do it.”
With Cox’s official retirement from the ALP, she said, “I’m getting organized. I’ve made my final plans. I told the funeral director not to put a crucifix on my program. Instead, put a B-17 bomber on it!”
Cox was barely out of high school when the war began.
She graduated six months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. She admits to being naïve about going to war, saying, “I had no idea what the war was about. I’d just discovered roller skating. After taking dance lessons for 12 years, I was enraptured by being able to dance to the organ on skates.’’
The skating rink became her stage. It wasn’t long before her solo performances turned into duets.
She blushed, saying, “Sailors from the Great Lakes training center came to the rink by the busloads. I liked them boys.”
Cox befriended many of the servicemen. One in particular, named Kenneth Cox, whom she’d dated since high school, joined the Army Air Corps, which is now known as the United States Air Force.
“I found myself being drawn in but no one from my small family had ever served in the military,” she said.
After becoming more skilled at her hobby of roller skating, she began to compete. Skating kept her mind occupied as she sought her mother’s approval to enlist in the Air Force, which is where Kenneth had already been for a year. She finally joined in July 1944, becoming a classification specialist for B17 bombers.
Cox spent her tour in New Mexico and later, Colorado Springs, which is now the Air Force headquarters. She was responsible for getting classified personnel into Europe. Although the war ended in 1945, she spent an additional year bringing her fleet home. She was honorably discharged in August 1946. She and Kenneth married in 1949 and moved to Hometown.
“Hometown was where you went to establish yourself when you got back from the war,’’ she said. “The community was built for returning veterans. The American Legion Post and its auxiliary were just being formed. I was one of the first to join.”
The purpose of the American Legion is to assist veterans of all wars, their widows and dependent children. The Legion also is active in developing and promoting legislative activities that establish or protect the rights of veterans.
“This work is important,’’ Cox said. “Through the years, I’ve held just about every job there is serving my local post.”
She’s received various accolades from the district, county and state for her work, including recognition for being one of the first female commanders and auxiliary presidents.
She loves the military and is fond of veterans.
Even while considering her own death, she’s thought of the veterans.
“It’s a far drive from Evergreen Park to the cemetery, and I don’t want people hungry,” she said. “So, I told the funeral director to serve lunch first.” When he asked what style of thank you cards she wanted, she replied, “I’ll take care of those myself.”
There’s no need to print those programs just yet. Cox is very much alive and well. Today you can find her at a ballet performance or snuggled on her sofa watching a good ol’ war movie.
“After 63 years with the Legion, I guess it’s time to relax,’’ she said. “But I’ll never forget the veterans.”