After 100 years Vern Wilcox, says it’s been a celebration all his life.
Hunkered down in his suite at the Alexander Mackie Lodge in Langford, the self-proclaimed farm boy who came to Langford to work the mills in 1964 reminisced about a full life he said has had its fair share of ups and downs.
“When I was 15 years old, I started riding freight trains … It was the dirty ‘30s and hard times,” he said. “Then the war broke out.”
For years, he spent time riding trains to wherever he could find work for food. Splitting wood, helping a farmer mend a fence, working the harvest between Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba – whatever it took to get to that next place, the next job, the next meal.
“(I would just) jump on the side of the freight train and go. They might try to kick you off and they sometimes did kick you off, but it finally got so they just let us go because there were so many men (and women) who were destitute, who were looking for something to do.”
Born in 1916, the first of eight siblings, Wilcox was raised on a Saskatchewan farm and eventually took the farm over from his dad. In 1964, he made the trek from the prairies to British Columbia, where he hoped to find greener pastures. He settled in Langford, where he found a job in a mill loading boxcars on Jacklin Road. That is where he spent the final 16 of his working years, retiring on the West Shore in 1981.
These days at Mackie Lodge, he said, he enjoys the friendships he has made and the opportunities to “make noise” with his saxophone at the monthly birthday bashes they host for residents of the local retirement home.
“I have played saxophone since I was six years old; as I got older I played in two orchestras,” he said. “I’ve been (playing) music ever since then. If you have a good group, you can’t help but enjoy it.”
Wilcox has had his share of challenges, losing bandmates, friends and family members as well as a few health concerns of his own along the way.
But he counts himself among the blessed.
“I don’t know if it’s luck or something beyond human, but I still have 20/20 vision in my eyes. I don’t wear glasses at all,” he said. “I have had a good life, I have been sick and I’ve been hurt, but I have always been able to bounce back – and I still drive a car.”
That and he still loves to play the saxophone.