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Foundation to honor Willmar, Minn., woman for philanthropy

The Willmar Area Community Foundation will present its 2011 Award in Philanthropy to Alice Erickson Cox, 97, of Willmar.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Area Community Foundation will present its 2011 Award in Philanthropy to Alice Erickson Cox, 97, of Willmar, originally from Lake Lillian, and her late husband Joe Cox. The foundation's awards dinner will be Thursday night at the Willmar Holiday Inn.

The foundation will also honor Larry Wepplo, a foundation board member who died this year after a long illness. The foundation will be making a one-time scholarship gift to Ridgewater College for a senior student majoring in accounting.

Wepplo was chair of the foundation's Good Samaritan Committee and strong supporter of helping area residents dealing with emergency needs.

Cox's husband invented the chain for chain saws and established the Oregon Saw Chain Company, now owned by Blount. Alice lives at Bethesda Sunrise Village, still drives and is as active as possible in selected events.

Alice Cox, who had lived in California, returned to Willmar in 2004 and has been a significant supporter to many nonprofits in the area such as Rice Memorial Hospital, the YMCA, Safe Avenues, Lake Lillian United Lutheran Church, Calvary Lutheran Church, Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Community Christian School.

Alice Cox had four brothers and three sisters and all were responsible for helping the family with hauling wood, cleaning and contributing to chores. She earned a bachelor's degree at St. Cloud Teachers College (now St. Cloud State University) and moved to Los Angeles in 1942, just as the nation entered World War II. She found she was unable to teach in California because she was not certified there and she worked as a phone company receptionist.

Alice met Joe at a supper club in Los Angeles.

He was in the logging industry and wondered how a simple beetle could cut through wood so fast. He viewed one under a microscope and, based on the beetle's technique, invented and patented the chain for chain saws.

Alice said that one invention enabled them to live a good life and she is grateful.

While picking fruit in their orchard, Joe fell and was hospitalized for several months until he died in 2002. He was 97.

After Joe's death, Alice returned to the Willmar area because she has relatives and friends here. She refers to the community as "My motherland" and "The heart of America." She feels blessed with good fortune and says, "The Lord and I are partners."