Eva Leona Jones Fox, Assiniboine name, Oyade Oda “Many Nations”, was born on January 22, 1937, at the Ft. Belknap Agency Hospital to Cecil Jones, Sr and Evangeline “Eva” (Turcotte) Jones. Many of her friends and family knew her by her nickname, “Fatso,” which was given to her as a child by her dad. When people who didn’t know her that well heard someone call her by her nickname, they were a bit shocked by the irony, because her physical stature didn’t match the awkward moniker. For mom, it had been her nickname for so long, she did not consider it an insult, nor did anyone who knew her.
She attended grade school in Chinook and at St. Paul’s Mission in Hays. She loved school and often referred to her time spent at “the Mission” as the happiest days of her life. She loved the Arts and especially enjoyed Theater, Spanish, Latin, and English. It was at the Mission that she met the love of her life, Stephen “Six” Fox. They married during her junior year, and she left school to raise a family.
Together, they built their home at the foothills of the Little Rockies at the Fox Place and started a ranching operation. She fondly referred to the ranch as “the land of milk and honey,” in reference to the lush hayfield that extended past the front yard of her home. The ranch was her special place, not just for its sense of space, but for the opportunity it afforded for one of her great passions: gardening. For her, gardening was not just a matter of digging a plot and planting seeds. It represented a living canvas on which she could paint her vision and provide for her family. Her garden fed her large family well into the long winter months. She was particularly proud of her ability to grow the best Halloween pumpkins and invited many children throughout the community to come and pick one.
Education was always important to her, and Mom later went on to earn her GED. She encouraged her children and grandchildren to do well in school and made sure that all of them received their high school diplomas. She was especially proud of the fact that seven of her children served in the United States military and proudly displayed their service portraits in her home. The strive for higher education was also passed along to her grandchildren. She encouraged them to achieve their goals and always kept in touch to hear all about them and their accomplishments. She took such delight in their company. She did anything and everything for them. This is evident in the many associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees that her children and grandchildren now possess among them.
In addition to her ranch wife duties, she went to work at the Hays School as a cook’s helper and eventually became the Head Cook. She was an excellent cook and baker, and her culinary skills were legendary in the small community of Hays. She served countless meals to generations of students going through the Hays Lodgepole Schools and retired in 2000, after 27 years of service. Mom always had a fondness for reading and learning and after she retired as a cook from HLP she went back to work there as a Library Aide, finally retiring fifteen years later.
She was especially famous for her bread dough, which yielded the most delicious fry bread and rolls you will ever eat. To this day, there is no written recipe for her bread, and despite frequent attempts by her daughters and granddaughters to replicate it or write it down in measurements of cups and tablespoons, all the knowledge lived only in her mind and her hands.
She kept an immaculate house, and she never hesitated to remind her children and grandchildren that she wasn’t “running a flophouse or a rest home.” She made sure her children and grandchildren were constantly busy, so you learned fast never to say you were “bored.” Saturday mornings were often spent cleaning her house while listening to classic country music playing on “Grass Roots Gold” on KMON.
Her empathetic nature resulted naturally in a love for animals, to include many dogs, cats, bum calves, and an orphaned coyote named “Charlie” and two Canadian geese – who left every winter but returned to her every Spring.
She was a devout and dedicated Catholic and a member of the Christian Mothers organization through St. Paul’s Mission. Her patron saint was St. Teresa of Avila, “The Little Flower,” to whom she still wears a medallion with her likeness today. Mom said she was inspired by St. Teresa’s life and her “little ways”; Like St. Teresa, everything she did in her life– small or large, was done with mindfulness and prayer. She spent countless hours teaching her children and grandchildren about the lives of saints, the presence of Jesus, and the stories of Fatima and Lourdes.
Mom was one of the most loving people you’d meet but wasn’t afraid to keep you in line or threaten to “slap you” if you needed it. During many of her teaching moments, it wasn’t unusual for her to go from quoting Jesus Christ to cussing us out with some choice swear words, then go right back into a religious story. She had a great sense of humor, which she used to lighten the mood, keep us in check, and entertain us.
One of her favorite things to do was gamble and play “keno” at the casino. In her younger years she loved playing cards with Daddy and their friends and buying squares on the World Series boards. She enjoyed playing bingo. She’d been to the big casinos in Deadwood, SD and Las Vegas to “play the machines.” However, mostly she loved being at home gardening and taking care of her home. Always a caretaker, in addition to maintaining the Veteran’s memorial park in Hays every Memorial Day she would haul her grandchildren up to the cemetery to clean and decorate all of their relatives’ graves. She also enjoyed going to Lewistown every Labor Day weekend to the “Metis” days to listen to the fiddle music and watch the “jigging” contests.
Mom’s greatest love was for her family, especially her grandchildren. She raised four of her grandchildren and two of her great-grandchildren, along with several of her nephews. She was not only the keeper of the family history, but she was also the glue that held her extended family together. She always looked out for her cousins, nieces, and nephews whose parents had passed on and never let them forget that they had a family with her. She loved her sisters and they shared a special bond. When the “Jones sisters” got together, they were notorious for their laughter which was referred to as “the Jones cackle.” Her and her sister Sharon, kept their cousin “Stew belly” in line and made sure he always had a haircut and checked on him “in the brush.”
In her later years, Mom began experiencing some setbacks health-wise. She suffered a couple of large strokes about ten years apart, and the last one proved difficult for her to recover from. Despite all the challenging times in her life, she never complained, never felt sorry for herself and above all, never lost her sense of humor. She and Daddy instilled in us that we needed to laugh more and complain less and their greatest gift to us was wit and humor.
Mom came from a “place of abundance.” By this she didn’t mean wealth, at least not in the conventional sense; she meant giving – giving of herself and giving what she had: comfort and support in times of need, advice when asked, nourishment for the body, mind or spirit. Even as she approached death, she continued on to provide support for those around her. There was no bitterness or anger, but rather a dignified acceptance that this was part of life’s experience. She was a shining example of how one is supposed to live on this Earth. She was humble and compassionate to a fault, and although she experienced a childhood mired in poverty and difficult times she never viewed as a hardship; she referred to many of these times as some of her happiest memories. She was one of the most gentle, generous, loving and forgiving people on this Earth, and we all had such admiration for her courage and composure.
Leona was preceded in death by her husband, Stephen, son William “Billy” Fox, mother Evangeline (Turcotte) Jones, father, Cecil Jones, brothers Cecil “Buck” Jones, James, “Jimmy” Jones and Medric Jones; sisters Ilene Cheney, Jean Mae Shambo, Vernie Jones, Thelma Jones, Barbara Werk, and Sharon Quincy; two nephews she helped raise, Loren and Marvin Cheney and an adopted son Greg Werk. She is survived by her sons Steve “Shelly” (Tescha) of Three Buttes, Curtis, Cecil and Mike “Gopher” (Delina) and Justin of Hays, Everall (Melissa) of Flandreau, SD; daughters Shannon, Rosie and Brittney (Dennis) of Hays. Grandchildren she helped raise; Curtis Jr, Colleen, and Kaci; great-grandchildren Gavin and Alden; nephews Curtis Jorgenson and Lyman Cheney; sister-in-law Louella Stiffarm. She is also survived by 24 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren. Special friends and cousins, Lois “Petey” Snell, Sylvia Heppner, Ione Bell, Cindy Gone and daughters-in-law, Geraldine Fox and Katherine Fox.
Wake services will be held on Thursday, August 15, 2019, at 7:00 pm at St. Paul’s Mission Recreation Center in Hays. Funeral Mass will be held on Friday, August 16, 2019, at 1:00 pm at St. Paul’s Mission Church. Arrangements have been made with Wilderness Funeral Home in Chinook.