100 years and more: Two centenarians celebrate their lives in Lexington County

By Natalie Szrajer
Posted 8/21/23

It’s not every day Lexington County gets to celebrate a pair of centenarians, but that’s exactly what happened last month.

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100 years and more: Two centenarians celebrate their lives in Lexington County


It’s not every day Lexington County gets to celebrate a pair of centenarians, but that’s exactly what happened last month. Willie Ray Fox and Marjorie Spears celebrated 100 years and 102 years respectively this past month, with Fox’s birthday coming on July 17 and Spears’ birthday following July 31. 

Both have much wisdom and humor to pass along to the next generation, but one they both advocate is working hard, although they each say it in their own way.

“Work hard,” said Spears who grew up on her family farm and knows a thing or two about working hard.

“The secret is get off your ass,” said Fox. “Find something to keep active.”

100 Years Strong: Willie Ray Fox

Fox lives at his home in Batesburg-Leesville and has lunch often with a church friend. Keeping active is important as he dispels advice “to get off your [butt].” 

The World War II veteran was a part of the US Army 101st Airborne Division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His military experience and accolades are lengthy, but he doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“The Lord’s blessed him to live this far. Other family members haven’t nearly as long,” said Bruce Fox, his lone living son.

During his birthday week, at one of his many celebrations held at the Lake Murray VFW Post 6740, he joked, “Dancing is good exercise especially with a good looking woman in your arms.”

While his lady, his wife of 61 years, passed away, he still keeps active. Most recently, the baseball fanatic was appreciated at a Lexington County Blowfish game last month. Fox said his favorite team is the Atlanta Braves and he jumped at the opportunity to throw the first pitch at the game.

While he isn’t one to boast about his military accolades, they include the Parachutist Badge (AKA “Jump Wings”), Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Purple Heart. This is but a few, as he’s received 15 commendations throughout the years.

Fox served his country as a paratrooper, jumping out of planes with 70 pounds of equipment strapped to his back. 

After enlisting at Fort Jackson, he went on to train as a paratrooper in Tyler, Tx. and Fort Benning, Ga. Then, in 1944, he boarded the HMS Queen Elizabeth out of New York. Fox was one of 22,000 troops bound for Newbury, England, landing on D-Day June 6, 1944.

Fox would later be assigned to the 501st regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. He was one of thousands of paratroopers who jumped into Holland under the constant scrutiny of bullets.

Fox commented that during his 73 days in Holland he had one “four-minute shower” and a single change of clothes. He also noted he was fed the best hot potato soup by some Catholic nuns.

Later in December, the 101st arrived in Belgium for what would later be known as the Battle of the Bulge. 

“They were met by 10 divisions of German enemy intent on a final stand,” reads an excerpt of his biography compiled from veteran Bob Caughman. “The ground was frozen. They wrapped their legs and boots with any material they could find. Fox says, ‘There was no way to keep warm.’ From that day and for the next 27 or so in the Ardennes Forest, Fox witnessed human carnage that no one should ever see. More than a few of his buddies were killed and many others were wounded.”

Fox was struck by a German 88 millimeter artillery shell explosion. After being dragged to a field evacuation hospital and later transported to McGuire Army Hospital in Richmond, Va., he was discharged from the Army Oct. 9, 1945. 

Fox continues to stay active in his church, First Baptist of Batesburg, and up through the past year could be seen on his riding lawn mower cutting his grass. 

Life has slowed down, but Fox keeps on going.

102 and Counting: Marjorie Spears

Spears is a Batesburg-Leesville native but was born in the Delmar Community Center in Saluda. She was raised in the Batesburg-Leesville area and called it her home until she was 100 years old. 

Now she lives at The Legacy of Lexington, an assisted living home. She lived in the Batesburg-Leesville area with her former husband of 71 years, Thomas Spears, who passed away in 2015. Thomas was a technical sergeant in the Army, and the two met while he was stationed at Fort Jackson.

“She worked at the Dixie home store on Main Street in Columbia,” said her son, Mike Spears. Mike is one of her three kids. She also has two daughters, Pam Steele and Elaine Taylor.

“I cut up a lot of chickens,” said Marjorie. After growing up on her family farm, it didn’t faze her too much. 

Marjorie grew up on a three-generation family farm in the Leesville area, according to Mike. In addition to raising chickens, her family also grew or raised cotton, corn and beef. 

After growing up on the farm, Marjorie said she’s no stranger to hard work.

“[My husband] wanted to cut down a magnolia tree and I said no. He asked, ‘Why not. You’re always picking up the leaves.’ I said, ‘It’s good exercise,’” Marjorie laughed. 

The two were definitely in love.

“He went overseas and I heard from him every day. He sent a letter every day,” said Marjorie of her husband’s service in World War II from 1944 to 1946. 

While she lived back in Columbia and Leesville when her husband was serving the country, she did get to travel around the Southeast as her husband was a baseball pitcher in the minor leagues. They traveled to Louisiana, Georgia and Texas, she recalled.

The memory of her husband lives on in her mind and her children’s minds, and she continues making new memories. Although she’s surprised she’s made it to 102.

“If anyone told me I’d live to be 102, I’d say no, not me,” Marjorie said. 

Despite being hesitant at first to move to The Legacy, she loves it now.

“People have been so nice,” Marjorie said.

She’s lived at the assisted living home for about a year and half, and while she enjoys the Bible studies, her favorite thing was having an Elvis impersonator come perform. The current member of St. Stephens Lutheran Church is a big fan of the late singer, saying she loved his movies and music..

She said her favorite Lexington restaurants are Flight Deck and Chicken Salad Chick and she enjoys shopping at Belk. 

“My wife calls her the energizer bunny,” Mike said.

“I just keep going,” Marjorie replied.


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