75 years together

Marge and Don Cox of South Bend look back on 75 years of marriage with joy, teasing each other about the manner in which each pursued the other during their courtship, which began in the mid-1930s. Shortly after they were married, he shipped out for wartime service on Guam. The couple have four children, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Don retired after 55 years as a pharmacist, working on the Long Beach Peninsula and in South Bend and Raymond.

SOUTH BEND — They met when he was 15 and she was 12.

They are together today at 98 and 95.

Don and Marge Cox of South Bend will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary May 11 at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco.

The couple has been associated with pharmacies on the Long Beach Peninsula, in South Bend, Raymond and Longview for seven decades.

Born in 1921, Don moved from his family’s Roosevelt home to Longview in 1926 where he graduated from high school after a stellar sports career. He attended Lower Columbia College, excelling at basketball and tennis, worked for Longview pharmacist Irv Gunderson for a year to earn money for more classes, then attended Washington State College in Pullman, where he obtained a general bachelor’s degree, with a major in chemistry and minor in pharmacy.

Margery Harris was born in Potlatch, Idaho, in 1923. At seven, her family moved to Camas where her father worked at the post office. She played flute in school, marched in the Portland Rose Parade, and took piano lessons from the aunt of Country music star Jimmie Rodgers (Camas’ most famous former resident). A teacher nicknamed her “Jerry” because there were so many Margies.

A spark was lit

They met at her hometown’s summer church camp near Lacamas Lake.

Marge was 12, Don three years older.

“A spark lit, and although it flickered, it never went out,” Don wrote in a family history.

“She was the first woman I ever kissed — but it was not that year!”

“The biggest thing we did was walk along a walkway,” Marge shrugged, cutting off the next question. “No, we were not holding hands. I didn’t pay any attention to him, though at Christmas he sent a card.”

He returned for another summer camp. Other times, she would see Don when Camas basketball teams traveled to Longview. “She had girlfriends in Longview and used that as excuse to come up and bug me,” he maintained.

“I was not interested!” Marge insisted. When she was a senior, Don took her to meet his mother. He recalled attending her graduation. “She played a flute duet.”

Couple in 1936

The couple are pictured in 1936 at a church camp in Marge’s Camas hometown where they met. Don was 15, Marge 12. They attended a couple of summer camps together and met again at sports events when Camas school teams traveled to Longview, where Don became a star athlete. Seven decades later, Don fondly remembers the flute duet she played at her Camas High School graduation.

After school, Marge worked in a bakery, variety store and a “most boring” graveyard shift at her hometown paper mill, kept awake by black coffee. Having saved enough to enroll in business classes, she took the train to Pullman to share with two women already at Washington State.

Her beau was deep into his studies, taking 16 hours of classes and 21 hours of labs in his first semester. “Don met me and helped get my luggage to Stevens Hall, but made it clear that nothing would come of this, so there was no point in seeing each other,” she once wrote.

Her acceptance of another man’s fraternity pin — then a signal of commitment — prompted Don and his Kappa Psi pharmacy fraternity buddies to serenade her lodgings while she watched from her rooftop sunbathing perch. “He was not a dancer, but he took me to one,” said Marge.

“I don’t think she ever asked me to marry her and I didn’t ask her,” said Don.

“You asked me to take your fraternity pin,” reminded Marge. “I hesitated. I wasn’t sure. I felt young. I was 20 — that was pretty young to make a decision that may last a lifetime.”

‘Useful’

Their love was blossoming during wartime. Although eligible for deferments, Don joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 and cajoled authorities into sending him to Salt Lake City to qualify as a military pharmacy technician.

In an often-quoted story, Don recalled, “I arrive in the pharmacy there to take my exam, and a large man who looks like he should be playing linebacker for the Green Bay Packers is standing before me. He asked me a half-dozen questions and said, ‘Hell, you know more about pharmacy than I do — you’re in!’”

Don and Marge married May 7, 1944, at the First Christian Church in Camas. “I Love You” by Bing Crosby was the nation’s best-selling record that day.

His training landed him two postings, living in one room in Clovis, N.M., then later in a basement apartment in Pratt, Kansas. Marge accompanied him to both, recalling the most unpleasant part of going to New Mexico was the dirty three-day train journey. That first room cost $65 a month — more than Private First-Class Cox earned — so Marge took an office job. “I found out she was useful!” Don teased. The Kansas experience was brighter, in part because Marge enjoyed a different job with an osteopath.

When orders came to deploy overseas, Don departed for Hawaii on a squalid troop ship from Seattle. Marge moved back to Camas and worked at Portland’s Kaiser shipyards as a stenographer. “I had a job, I kept busy, and always looked for mail from him — but it didn’t come for a month.”

He served 15 months on Guam, performing “sick call” medical and pharmacy duties, earning his sergeant’s stripes in support of a B-29 squadron engaged in bombing Japan. “Those were tough days, little to do and anxious to get home,” he once wrote.

Wedding day

During World War II, while waiting for his overseas military posting, Don Cox obtained a 15-day pass to marry Marge in Camas in 1944. His old pharmacy boss loaned them a car for a honeymoon to Long Beach, but they didn’t go, staying in Portland instead, because Don could not find his driver’s license. When sailing home from service in the Pacific, he won enough money in a poker game to buy his bride a better ring.

Returning in 1946, he worked one summer as a jackhammer operator at the Camas paper mill — which damaged his hearing — before heading back to Pullman. His Washington State pharmacy degree was accompanied by the department’s gold medal for scientific excellence.

Resuming work at Gunderson’s in Longview, he earned $75 for each six-day week for a couple of years, including one day in 1949 when the shock from a 7.1 earthquake in Olympia sent bottles flying off the shelves. “We spent all night cleaning up the mess, trying to salvage the items we could,” he recalled in a business article. “I am proud to say we were the only drug store to be open the very next day.”

Changes

The following year, Bill Hall and Reese Williams invited Don to buy a part-share in their two pharmacies on the Peninsula. He moved to Long Beach, working seven days a week, often until 11 p.m. because doctor’s offices in Naselle-Grays River were open so late. Future owners Dave Aase and Fred Lawrence became part of the operation.

Coxes at WSU

Marge and Don Cox are pictured on the campus of Washington State College, now university, in the early 1940s. She studied business and he obtained a science degree as their courtship blossomed. After his wartime service, they returned as married couple so he could earn a pharmacy degree, and their first daughter, Donna, was born in nearby Colfax. Their entire family are WSU alums.

Don’s community leadership included serving on the school board, president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club, and as a charter member of the Elks Lodge.

Ten years later, he sold his share in the Peninsula pharmacies to Williams and Bill Hall’s widow, Eola Hall, having bought two pharmacies in South Bend. One was the old Albert Davis store, which had gone into bankruptcy, and the other the Semphill Drug Store. The old Davis building now houses the Pacific County Historical Museum.

He combined the businesses into South Bend Pharmacy, which became a Rexall Drug Co. franchise. As well as serving customers, he assisted the Willapa Harbor Hospital.

The Lumber Exchange Building served for nine years before he moved to new quarters on Water Street in 1969, offering shoppers a one-stop experience with Walt’s Neighborhood Food Center.

The profession changed, but slowly. “When I first started, the doctors were ‘gods’ and you catered to them in every way,” said Don. Until rules changed in 1969, pharmacists were not allowed to explain treatments to patients like better-educated professionals do today. “You didn’t tell a patient what it was — the doctor did that. So, nothing was labeled, we didn’t discuss it with them.”

As years passed, pharmacists who had compounded prescriptions from raw ingredients began dispensing more factory prepared drugs. Coordinating insurance demanded computers and prices went up. “Something that costs $30 now was 25 cents then,” said Don.

Family matters

Marge did not work outside the home once Donna, the first of their four children, arrived in 1947. “She was an excellent stay-at-home mom,” said Don. The Coxes had three more children, David, Susan and Cathi, and have 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

“My mother had worked when I was a kid, and I had two brothers, so we scrapped until she was home,” Don said.

“I wanted her home when they got home from school. She did a great job with them.”

Marge nodded. “I liked that, but I had loved work,” she said. “Four kids were a handful!”

Their girls grew up stocking shelves during holidays. David didn’t. “I had two or three jobs that paid better,” he laughed.

Cox family 1961

The Coxes pose by the family’s Plymouth wagon for a snapshot taken in 1961. Left to right are Susan, Cathi, Marge, Donna, Don and David. The three girls stocked the family store shelves during holidays, but it was David, who had chosen different jobs, who qualified to follow his father as a pharmacist. One of his sons, Matt, continues the family business in South Bend. Another is a pharmacy educator in Texas.

The absence was temporary, Don noted. “He was in Pullman. He called me and said he was in the pharmacy school. I couldn’t believe it. It worked out very nicely, and now he has two kids doing it.”

Two of David Cox’s five children make it a three-generation pharmacy family. Matt operates the South Bend Pharmacy (with his almost-retired father working briefly once a week) and Craig teaches at the pharmacy school at Texas Tech University.

Still golfing

Because the Cox family preferred beach living to North County, they had moved back to Long Beach after a couple of years in South Bend. For multiple years, Don enjoyed a 42-mile commute.

The business expanded in the mid-1960s. Charles Hackett, who had been a pharmacist for five decades, sold Don the Raymond Drug Store. He enlisted colleague Dick Mohrmann as co-owner and they ran it for seven years before selling it to son David and Ron Brummell in 1973.

As at the beach, his South Bend-Raymond business success was paralleled by active civic involvement, dreaming up the community’s “Come and Play on Labor Day” festival slogan, serving on the County Rural District Library Board and later the Timberland Regional Library board, plus helping the Cancer Society.

Holding hands

These hands each have nine decades of wear. Don and Marge Cox met in the era when you could buy a gallon of gas for 10 cents and four cans of Campbell’s Soup for 25 cents. They will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary in Ilwaco May 11.

Don wasn’t done, however. He worked a couple of days a week for Aase and Lawrence, helping when the Ocean Park pharmacy opened. After more than 55 years as a pharmacist, he finally retired — at age 81 — in 2002.

And that meant even more time for golf.

Sports was always huge. Don won a state singles bowling trophy in Seattle when he was 52. Both Coxes loved golf through their adult lives, with Don maintaining a 7 handicap until age 70. (“After that, I went up a stroke every year!”) He won Surfside’s men’s club championship three years in a row, plus senior competitions. When the Astoria Bridge opened in 1966, they joined the Astoria Golf and Country Club and served as its president in 1988.

On his days off, Matt takes his 98-year-old grandfather golfing. “I play one day a week now,” Don said. “I enjoy it. One of the toughest things is to get out there and remember what you used to do. But you get out there and still have fun.”

Their lifestyle and longevity does not surprise daughter-in-law Debbie Cox of South Bend. “They have always been active and watched what they eat,” she said.

For the couple, hand-holding lingers comfortably many moments after a requested close-up photo.

“She got my attention 30 to 40 years ago,” Don said. “Someone asked us about it and I said, ‘We have had our difficulties and spats and never considered walking away,’ and she said, ‘What little you know!’”

Marge gazes at her spouse with an equal measure of adoration and innocence.

“I don’t remember that!”

The writer gratefully acknowledges the stellar assistance of the couple’s grandson Keith Cox in the preparation of this article, which included access to photos, remarkably detailed family histories and a splendid 2012 “Sou’wester” business article.

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