Quick-witted, capable, and strongly opinionated, Burt Cox does not act like he is turning 100 on Nov. 19. Most could not live alone at his age, but Cox does, on the oldest farm in Hillsdale County, Cox Farm, which his ancestors purchased in 1834.
“I don’t really feel like I’m an old person,” said Cox, who bought a brand new Honda Touring this year and can get around his house without a cane.
Given his background, it’s hardly surprising that he is still going strong. Cox recalled how growing up on the farm was no luxury: his mother made clothes for him and his four brothers, and meat was a treat they enjoyed on Sundays. They took baths once a week in a wash basin. He fondly remembered earning two jelly beans for hauling a load of wood for his grandfather.
During World War II, Cox spent four years as a mechanic in the U.S. Air Force, including two years in Morocco. As a crew chief, he said, he would get up at 4 a.m. to warm up the airplane engines. He said he lived in a hole while in Morocco, and sometimes wouldn’t change clothes for six weeks at a time.
“My time in the service changed me,” he said. “I couldn’t be trained. I just got out of three years of combat — no one could tell me what to do.”
Cox then worked as a mechanic for United Airlines for 27 years, first in California and then in Detroit. In 1954, he bought the family farm from his mother because he wanted to keep it in the family, he said. For several years, he managed to commute to Detroit daily while raising hogs and growing 60 acres of corn and soybeans on the farm.
He retired from United Airlines at 63, but didn’t stop farming till he was 80. Now, he rents the farm to neighbors, who grow corn, wheat, and soybeans on the land.
Because of his military background and work for United Airlines, Cox has traveled the world. Besides Morocco, he said, he’s been to Germany, Hawaii, and Tokyo, and has seen much of the U.S. But he said he’s content where he is now.
“This is the best place in the United States. The best place in the world that I know of,” he said, looking through his kitchen window at the vast, tree-lined cornfield across the road. “I don’t want to go anywhere. Every day I see the sun come up, and it’s different 365 days of the year.”
The 119-acre farm has a story of its own. It’s been certified by the state as a sesquicentennial farm, meaning it’s been owned by the family for 150 years, said Mary Foulke, who serves on the state board for the Michigan Centennial Farm Association. Cox said his grandfather, Robert Cox, who bought the farm, also organized the Republican Party in Jackson.
Cox’s daughter, Martha Blessing, lives out of state but said the farm has always felt like home to her. She and her husband came up to visit for her father’s birthday.
“To me, it’s very special that only my family has lived here,” she said, noting that her great-grandfather’s signature is on an upstairs door.
“It’s peaceful,” Blessing said. “You can get away from a lot — it feels like a lot leaves as you come down the dirt road. You just kind of leave things that don’t really matter.”
She said she’s grateful for her father’s long life, too.
“He’s been my rock,” Blessing said.
Foulke said she’s built up a relationship with Cox while gathering information about the history of the farm for a project she’s working on.
“First he seems gruff, but he’s such a sweet person,” she said. “I love talking to him because he has all these life lessons that he’s learned. I just love hearing his stories and what he’s learned about life. I feel very fortunate that I got to know him.”
Cox said “you bet” he’s voting in the election. He said he doesn’t know why such a big deal is made over his 100th birthday.
“It’s really nothing. If you live long enough, it’s going to happen,” he said.
Cox said at the end of the day, he’s content with his life.
“God gives me every day, and he lets me do what I want to do,” he said. “I live my life every day, and I live it for today, and if this is it, well, that’s all right. I’ve had a good life, a colorful life.”