A Lockport family’s tradition reaches a ripe old 75
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com July 30, 2013 7:56PM
Leona Meyer (from left), with her cousins Don and Gilbert Fox, look over photos of past family reunions. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 1, 2013 6:34AM
Members of Lockport’s Fox family know better than to schedule anything on the calendar for the third Sunday in August.
“When I was growing up, the third Sunday was the Fox reunion. Nothing else was planned. We had a car and it had to be cleaned for the reunion,” said Don Fox, of Joliet, who attended the first family reunion as a newborn in 1938. “It was the highlight of the summer.”
This year marks the 75th year the Foxes will be gathering for an afternoon picnic — held at Dellwood Park since 1948 — attracting as many as 190 family members.
Today’s Foxes are all descendants of three brothers — Louis, Edward and Herman Fox — who settled in this canal town from Saxony, Germany. The actual German spelling of the name is Fuchs.
Louis, the oldest, arrived first and had a home and a job in Lockport prior to 1882, when his brothers came to America as stowaways.
When the family gathers this year on Aug. 18, they will wear red, white or blue to signify the brother from which they descended.
Most in Lockport may be familiar with the Fox name — especially Gladys Fox, who has a museum named after her on Ninth Street, operated by the Lockport Township Park District.
One year, the picnic was rained out — a rare occurrence — and was relocated to the museum. Gladys was an in-law, having married George Fox, one of Louis’ eight children.
Big families were typical in the Fox family: Herman had 11 children, and Edward had six. Today there are hundreds of them, and while many still live in the surrounding area that includes Lockport, Plainfield, Joliet and Shorewood, they also have scattered to Florida, Texas, California, Minnesota and Germany.
According to well-preserved family records, the reunion was Louis’ idea and his wife Jennie worked with Aunt Hannah to contact family members. The rest, they said, is “history.”
“Seventy-five years is a long time,” said Don, who hails from Edward’s family. He’s only missed one reunion, when he was on a cruise — obviously breaking the cardinal family rule.
“Reunions like this just don’t happen. The key is how well organized it has been,” he said.
Both Don and his brother Gilbert give credit to a few family members who made sure the tradition was kept alive, including cousin Eleanor, who served as secretary for 44 years; and Gladys Fox, who was active in the Lockport community and “always made sure we had a nice spot,” said Don’s cousin, Leona Meyer, of Shorewood.
“It all goes back to the people who started it,” said Meyer, who was the first woman to chair the reunion committee in 1943. “Gladys stayed with it. She made every reunion until she died in 2002.”
It is now up to the younger generation to keep it going, and current secretary Leanne Fox knows that. The postcard reminders were mailed out months ago, and she’s already received RSVPs from around the country. A banner has been ordered to proudly proclaim this 75th reunion, and commemorative candy dishes — bearing a fox — will be available for purchase.
She has written the itinerary on a yellow legal pad.
They always begin with “The Lord’s Prayer” before they eat. Then there is a brief business meeting to elect officers and establish committees for the next year.
Prizes are awarded for the newest baby, newest married couple, longest married, most reunions attended, oldest, youngest, the one who traveled the farthest.
They collect $3 from every family — to cover the postage and prizes — a rate that has not been increased in 40 years.
The meeting is an opportunity to decide on any changes: Should prizes be added or dropped? Should bingo be continued, and should the serving of ice cream cups be abolished, as it was in 1978?
Sometimes it’s hard to get people to serve on committees.
“If you are not there, you may get nominated,” said Don’s daughter, Cindy Clark.
Minutes have been kept every year since 1940, recording all births, deaths and weddings — providing a valuable glimpse at the Fox family history, which allowed them to create a history book for the 50th reunion.
“It’s all in the book,” Leanne said as she pats a three-ring binder full of minutes. She hopes to compile another little history book after this year’s event.
As secretary, she also has every receipt, all correspondence, photos and the guest books everyone signed over the years. Her goal is to put all pictures on a CD and hand out copies, and collect email addresses to save on postage — signs of the changing times — which previous secretaries never would have dreamed of.
After business, there are games and the traditional baseball game, Don’s favorite part of the reunion.
“When I was little, I could not play baseball with the men. Now we let everyone play,” he said.
Leanne’s favorite was the “cookie on a stick game,” in which participants had to eat a butter cookie attached to a fishing line — without breaking it off.
“When I was younger, my favorite was the games,” Cindy said. “Now that I’m older I like the socializing and the food. I usually don’t get to see my cousins unless there is a wedding or a funeral.”
Their ancestors would be “surprised,” “happy,” and “proud” that this family tradition has continued, they said.
“You take it for granted that every year it will be perfect, and it is,” Don said.