Gretchen and Charlie Knox: ‘We’ve had a lot of fun with politics’

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For those driving down Main Street in Vevay, it’s known as “Democrat Corner”. For the lady that lives in the home surrounded by political signs, her friends and family members lovingly call her the “Rooster Lady”.

For Gretchen Knox and her husband, Charlie, it’s just business as usual around election time.

Gretchen Knox was born out around Caledonia, the only child of Ernest and Pauline Carlton. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a farmer – and both were also very active members of the county’s Democratic party.

“I’ve been a Democrat ever since I was big enough to know Democrat from Republican and even speak the words,” Gretchen Knox laughed. “My parents were party workers for the Democrat party, so I’ve never known any different than to work for the Democrats. Both of us have.”

Gretchen and Charlie Knox met at a square dance that she had attended with friend Teresa Noble and her parents; and after getting married the couple moved to Craig Township – remaining there until they moved to town in 1997.

As for politics, Gretchen’s first memory of an election was when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon to become President of the United States.

“We all thought we’d all gone to heaven when Roosevelt got in,” Gretchen Knox said. “I rode on Dale Smith’s school bus, and he was the Republican County chairman at one time. He had his school all decorated with ‘Landon Sunflowers’ that he used as campaign signs. We about had a knock down between the Democrat kids and the Republican kids that day over those sunflowers.”

The political statement didn’t last long, either. Gretchen said that once the bus arrived in Vevay, the local police advised Dale Smith that he had one hour to remove the political sunflowers from his school bus – and he did.

“We Democrats thought that was funny,” Gretchen Knox smiled.

She also remembers attending a Switzerland County Democratic meeting with her parents when she was a child.

“I though Harry Tapp and Lee Bliss were about the greatest men that ever lived,” she recalled. “There was those two and Hazel Byrum, and Henry Ford was the party treasurer for years. He did a good job. We always had a good amount of money when he took care of it.”

She and Charlie also remember some good-natured high jinks with upper level candidates.

“When Vance Hartke was running for the U.S. Senate, Lee Bliss was our county chairman then, and he got Hartke to come to Vevay,” Charlie Knox said. “I remember he had on a suit of clothes and tennis shoes – a pretty funny outfit for a man running for the Senate.”

“We had a reception at the headquarters, and we were supposed to have punch and crackers and cheese,” Gretchen Knox continued. “Charlie and Libby Leap were responsible for the refreshments, and the punch got spiked with vodka. I won’t say who, but there was one local woman who went home without any pain that night.”

The couple remembers a time when the political party would have a fish fry on the lawn of the courthouse, and those were so well attended that you couldn’t find a place to park. Although both are still strongly involved in the party, both also see a shift away from party politics.

“It used to be that if you were a Democrat, then you were a Democrat – same with the Republicans,” Gretchen Knox said. “But I think now most people vote for the person, rather than the party.”

One of Gretchen’s passions that ties into politics is her collection of roosters – one of the symbols of the Democratic party. She said that it all started with a lamp that she received in December of 1946, and now there are so many decorating the couple’s home, she’s lost count of how many there are.

“Charlie used to collect brass spittoons, but the roosters outnumber them now,” Gretchen Knox said. “There’s all sorts of roosters around here.”

Although she’s a lifelong Democrat, Gretchen Knox says that she believes strongly in the two party system, believing that everyone should be able to express their opinion in public and at the ballot box. When the election rolls around this year, she’ll be helping with absentee voting, preferring to leave the poll work to others.

“I love politics, but I just can’t be as active as I used to be,” the 82-year old says. “We’ve had some younger people come and get more interested in the party, and that’s a good thing. With my age, it’s just a little too long of a day for me to work the election now. When you get to be our ages, you need to take a back seat and let the younger ones get involved. We’ve had a lot of fun in politics.”