Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mike Cox -- a bit about his life

Mike is the one on the upper right corner of this picture.

My brother, Mike, was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1965. When Mike was about a year old, our family moved to Minneapolis and eventually (in 1970ish) settled in Shakopee, Minnesota where he is now buried at St. Mark's Catholic Cemetery.

As a child, Mike was a sensitive and very expressive boy who made friends for his siblings. Our older brother, Chris, is a man of few words--always has been, always will be. I (his kid sister) was a bit shy growing up. So, I'm sure my parents were relieved to have Mike bring home a bunch of neighborhood friends for us when we first moved to Shakopee! That was Mike's style--social, curious, loyal, and kindhearted. I'm sure he was at the center of many of our nightly neighborhood games: kick the can, football, Annie Annie Over... Whatever there was to be played with a group of kids, he'd gather them all and the games would begin.

As a teenager, Mike's curiosity turned into a bit of mischief (must be the Irish in us!) and with a turn in our family situation, he was a less-supervised son of a divorced working mother and father. Whoa! Seemingly limitless freedom in any curious young boy can be a dangerous thing!

Have I already mentioned that Mike was the curious sort? Just checkin'! He'd take apart our phones and rig them to his fancy. He disassembled many other household electronics during an era when we really didn't have a bunch of unused electronics lying around. So I'm sure some of our often-used electronic items suddenly disappeared without explanation! I also remember Mike setting up a secret hideaway in the attic of our garage. He even wired a phone in for himself! Nobody knew about his hideout for quite some time, and when I found it, I was sworn to secrecy!

In junior high, between 8th and 9th grades, Mike contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome that suddenly rendered him paralyzed from the waist down. I remember when he first started 9th grade that year. Since he was still in a wheelchair he actually got a much-coveted key to use the school elevator (which I'm sure some of his friends were able to benefit from as well)! Apparently, his illness occurred before the now commonly prescribed rehab therapies, because Mike ended up teaching himself how to walk again. No therapy. Of course, that wasn't before he terrorized the hospital hallways and staff with his wheelchair wheelies!

After he recovered from paralysis, he got involved with Golden Gloves boxing--along with my older brother and my dad (as an assistant coach). What? From a wheelchair to a boxing ring? Yep! Anyway, he had some fun with boxing for a little while.

However, (ahem) I believe his grades began to suffer and his freedom in life was more than he or our family could handle--without additional trips to the police station, where, unfortunately, his Golden Gloves coach worked as a police officer! So, for his junior year in high school (in order to add a bit of supervised stability in his life), he was kindly taken in by my mom's brother and wife, Connie and Steve, in Dubuque. Now, Mike was a bright young man. He got through most of the year doing very well and getting good grades at Walhert High School--the same high school my parents attended. Then, since old habits die hard--even for a youngster--he became restless once again.

He came back to Shakopee (albeit because he missed his kid sister so much!) to finish high school at Shakopee Senior High. During that time, he lived with a friend's family. Hey Scott, are you out there?!?

Did I mention that Mike was quite bright? I can tell you that his grades certainly only reflected his effort in academics--not his true knowledge. I know this because we ended up having 10th grade history together during his senior year. We were both in Mr. Schleper's 10th grade history class...or was it Mr. Vaughan's class. Anyway, Mike was always able to answer all the questions in class. I would just sink in my seat and hope I wasn't called on at all. Yes, I got better grades than Mike (besides maybe that class), but if truth be told, he sure knew a lot more than I did!

Mike also liked to write, and he created some good stories...and even a bit of poetry! I have some of his writings here at my house. Maybe I'll share some of it on this site!

So, what did Mike do after high school graduation? He enlisted in the Army. Shortly after bootcamp, he was stationed in Giebelstadt, Germany and spent two years there. It was during his visits home on leave that I realized, even as his little sister, that he had matured tremendously. He didn't take life so casually...but in a good way. I actually saw that sensitive, loyal, light-hearted, generous side of him I hadn't paid attention to in a long time. I remember that he and Chris would take me out during his leaves from the Army and not let me pay for anything. He would also make sure that nobody bothered me...or else maybe some of his old boxing days skills would have to come out again! Thank goodness none of that was necessary!

After his stint in Germany (where he was able to tour much of Europe), he returned to the States and was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas near El Paso. While he was working on the RADAR and armament of the VULCAN weapon system, he was sent to Carrizozo, New Mexico to work on some special project that we couldn't know about. Mike had just reenlisted for another 4 years in the Army when he died in a car accident in Carrizozo on October 7, 1987 at the age of 22.

Mike's death set us all back on our heels, yet brought both sides of our family together again in a very comforting way. It was during this blur of a week surrounding Mike's death (in my still maturing youth) that I learned never to take family--or any person--for granted.

The Army sent a wonderful man back to Shakopee to escort Mike's body. His name is Greg Ulibarri. We've completely lost touch with him, but I'd LOVE to find him again! He told us some great stories about Mike while he was in the service. His stories seemed to give us some proper and much-needed closure to his life since it was ended so suddenly.

It has been more than 20 years since Mike passed away. He has been missed dearly, and we have all wondered, countless times, where he would have been and what he would have been doing throughout the years. Of course, we can't fill in those details, but you can help us if you knew him. Please email me (one sentence or a full story) at about anything that you recall about him. I'd love to add your stories to this site, so it can be a place where everyone can read about him. These stories provide comfort to us, his family, and help fill in the other dimensions of his life story.

Thank you!

Mike's kid sister,

1 comment:

Renee said...

Of course I didn't know your brother, but I think he might stayed in the military for 20 + years, if he had already re-enlisted for another 4 years. Sounded like he liked the Army life. He could have traveled and lived all over this ol' world like us. You would have gotten more great stories from him, then just Europe. Do you know any of the places he visited while over there?