Local woman celebrates more than a century of life

In 1915, Woodrow Wilson was well into his first term as president of the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote, Babe Ruth hit his first career home run, and Ocean View resident Marie Knox was born.

“I was born in Sussex County. It was called ‘Dagsboro District,’” recalled Knox, who will celebrate her 103rd birthday on Sept. 1.

Knox was born to Lewis and Marella Lathbury, who were also Sussex County natives.

“My dad worked on a boat. He was an engineer,” recalled Knox. “We had an 80-some-acre farm. My mom took care of the farm while my dad worked away.”

Knox said the family farm predominantly grew vegetables, but they also had a few animals as well.

“We raised a lot of corn,” she said. “In those days, you raised the corn and things to feed the animals. We didn’t have a tractor or anything. We worked all year just to feed the animals.”

Aside from growing food for the animals, they also grew food to sustain the family.

“We had a lot of vegetables, and my mom used to can vegetables and fruit.”

Knox, who also had two older sisters, said the girls would help their mother tend to the farm.

“We did anything… picked strawberries… It was a lot of hard work. I always liked to work, use my hands. I still like to work.”

For fun, the girls would swim in the river next to the farm.

“Our farm went right down to the river. One of my sisters and I used to go swimming twice a day,” she said. “We didn’t have crime — nothing like now.”

Knox attended the Blackwater School, a two-room school house near Clarksville.

“In our class we had about five [students],” she explained. “In my room, we had four grades. In the other room, there was 5 to 12. One teacher had all these grades. She had grades in one room, and another teacher had grades in the upper room.”

Knox said she and her sisters walked, “about a mile or so” to school when they were attending Blackwater; however, when the school consolidated with Lord Baltimore, they rode the school bus.

While in school, she served as a substitute on the basketball team but, according to Knox, “I wasn’t very good.”

Knox graduated high school in 1933 — she was part of the first class to graduate from the new Lord Baltimore School (the original section of which is the center portion of today’s Lord Baltimore Elementary School).

Many summer days were spent on the boardwalk in Bethany, recalled Knox.

“When I was in my late teens, my dad would drive down there three times a week,” she said. “We dressed up fine — not like they do now. The best we had, we would wear. We used to wear heels, and we’d walk the boardwalk.

“They had the movie theater there, and I remember my dad would give me 50 cents a Saturday night, and I could go to the movies and then have a chocolate nut sundae or something afterwards.”

Knox went on to marry George W. Knox, another Sussex County native, who also had attended Lord Baltimore School.

“I knew him when I went to Lord Baltimore School, but he was ahead of me in class. I never dated him or anything.”

George Knox was a man of many trades, having worked on a boat, and been a farmer and business owner.

“He worked on a boat in New York for a while. Then he raised chickens. He drove a truck. It was ‘feast or famine’ in the chicken business. The chicken business would be good one year and then it wouldn’t be good the next year.”

Together, they had four children — Judith, Mary Jane, Roger and Arlene.

Her family lived in Bethany Beach, on Jefferson Bridge Road, near where the Holiday Inn is currently located, and experienced both the Great Depression and World War II.

“It was just bad,” she said of the Depression. “We had to have stamps to get coffee, sugar and things like that. It was bad for everybody.”

“We had to put curtains on our windows because of the submarines that may be offshore,” added Knox’s daughter Mary Jane Townsend of World War II.

“We was right down to the beach. We couldn’t have any lights showing out through the windows,” added Knox.

In those days, Bethany residents were few and far between — so everyone knew everyone.

“If somebody came down that road during the wintertime, you knew they were lost, because there were just a few families that lived at the beach at the time. Just very few families,” said Townsend. “People left Labor Day that had old beach cottages, and they might come back Memorial Day… There was nobody here in the winter.”

Townsend said her childhood, growing up in Bethany, was rather idyllic.

“We’d climb trees, we’d rollerskate, we rode bikes. We played outside. We were oceanfront. We’d go to the beach every day…

“When I was growing up, the Army used to be here year-round. My dad and mom would take us to the movies in Rehoboth — we had nothing to do but go to the movies,” Townsend said. “And a lot of the Army men would be hitchhiking just to get to Rehoboth for action.

“My dad would pick some of them up. We’d have to sit in each other’s laps, and some of these Army people, he’d invite them to come to Sunday dinner. Mom always had a big Sunday dinner, and they would be thrilled. You know, they’re away from home, there’s nothing to do in Bethany — absolutely nothing.”

Townsend said Bethany didn’t start becoming a more year-round town until after the devastation caused by the infamous “Storm of ’62.”

“They had the chicken farm. All the chickens drowned, and the water came into the house — the foyer, the laundry room — but never to the main level,” said Townsend. “Dad and my brother Roger stayed at the house and could see some of the houses go down.”

“My oldest daughter was living in Ocean View at the time. I had to take a truck and leave Bethany Beach and go stay with her during the storm. Arlene was a little girl then,” added Knox.

Eventually, the family got out of the poultry business and opened the Summer Place Motel in the 1970s.

“She helped run the hotel,” said Townsend of her mother. “We had the property, and it was about the only thing to do.”

“I worked over at the hospital during the winter, and then I worked in the motel from April to October,” added Knox. “I was a nurse’s aide; I think I made $1.03 an hour.”

The family operated the motel until the early 1980’s, when Knox sold it a few years after her husband’s passing. She then began traveling the world.

“He wouldn’t leave Bethany Beach. He would go to Florida, but that’s it,” Knox said of her husband. “I’ve been to several countries.”

“She would travel with some of her lady friends, and then my sister and her husband some,” added Townsend.

Knox has traveled throughout Europe (“I’ve been to Switzerland twice.”), South America and beyond.

“I haven’t been to all the states yet, but I’ve been to several,” she said of the U.S.

Knox said her favorite country to visit was Israel — noting her time spent at the Dead Sea and Masada Desert.

“She was baptized again in the River Jordan,” added Townsend.

These days, Knox has retired her suitcase, instead devoting time to root for her favorite sports team — the Baltimore Orioles.

“I have no idea why I chose them, but I’ve been with them a few years,” said Knox, noting that they’ve had a rough season this year. “They’re losing some of their good players.”

“She is the No. 1 fan of the Baltimore Orioles. She doesn’t miss a game. She knows more about the Orioles than the coach does,” Townsend added.

Knox also spends her time watching “Judge Judy” and reading her Bible.

“She loves the Lord. Still goes to church when she can,” said Townsend, noting that Knox is a member of Ocean View Church of Christ.

While Knox’s sight and hearing may not be what they once were, she said, “at least my presence is there.”

“If you’ve never been, try to go over there sometime,” she added of the church.

With age 103 just around the corner, Knox said birthdays were never a big to-do when she was growing up, and she doesn’t plan to have a big party to celebrate.

“The kids and I usually go out for dinner on my birthday,” she said.

“She doesn’t want a party. She just wants us kids to go to dinner with her,” said Townsend, noting that the family threw Knox a big 80th birthday party.

Family is important to Knox, who said “being a good mother” was how she was successful in life.

“I have 12 grandchildren, but don’t ask me how many great-grandchildren I have. Every year there’s always an increase.”

Knox said she has lived a lot of life and could fill a whole book with stories.

“You could send someone around. I’d have to have a ghost-writer,” she said.

As for Knox’s secret to a long and happy life?

“You’ll have to ask the Lord that. But I think exercising and eating like a pig.”

By Maria Counts
Staff Reporter