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Chainsaw Inventor’s Estate Goes To Willmar Foundation

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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WILLMAR (WCCO) — The man who invented the chain saw’s unique chain design was actually married to a Minnesota woman. When he died, she moved back to the area and brought along her love of community. Now, that love is about to enrich the community of Willmar.

As pastor of Calvary Lutheran church in Willmar, Reverend Tim Larson is well aware of community needs. His parish members contribute to the impoverished, the hungry and the sick as well as to civic groups building a stronger future.

“Children, families, elderly and diversity, the needs are many,” said Larson.

Alice Erickson Cox, 97, understood that, too. Cox was an associate member of Calvary Lutheran who grew up in nearby Lake Lillian.

Last October, Alice was honored for her generosity by the Willmar Area Community Foundation with its 2011 Award In Philanthropy.

As part of the celebration, a video was shown of Alice being interviewed for the occasion. When asked about her beloved Willmar area home, Cox responded, “it’s my motherland, the heart of America.”

Alice moved back to Willmar in 2004 just a couple of years after her husband, Joe, passed away in California. They met back in 1942, when he was a logger and she went to California seeking a teaching job.

Joe went on to start the Oregon Saw Chain company, after watching how beetles chew through wood. He took several home and observed their mouths under a microscope.

“He, so to speak, discovered the way they attacked a tree. Well, he thought, that’s a good way a chain saw could attack as well, so he invented the chain used in the chain saw,” said Dean Anderson, the foundation’s director.

Joe’s patents were sold to other chain saw manufacturers and he eventually sold the company. The invention brought Joe and Alice tremendous wealth and his early retirement allowed the couple to travel the world.

After Joe’s death, Alice moved back to the Willmar area to be closer to some relatives and friends. Then, when Alice passed away in December 2011, the Willmar Area Community Foundation was in for a pleasant surprise.

“Some of their jaws dropped, it was over $6 million,” said Anderson.

The Joe and Alice C. Cox Fund will provide a legacy gift that will go a long way in meeting the needs of the people, in a place she loved.

“This is a marvelous way for us to respond to some of them and to do it with joy, and to actually fulfill Alice’s wish,” said Larson.

To put the gift into some perspective, it more than doubles the assets in the foundation’s trust accounts.

The couple had no children, so their entire estate was willed for the greater good of community needs.

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