By Bob Zientara
For 36 and one-half years -- 25 of them as a supervisor -- Barron native Vicki Cole worked at what’s now known as the Jennie-O Turkey Store.
Cole, the daughter of Barron residents Fred and Edna Neuman, is a 1973 graduate of Barron High School, and recently attended its 45th class reunion. She will be the honorary chair for the 2018 American Cancer Society Relay for Life this Friday, Aug. 3, at Barron High School
It was while she was working at Jennie-O that Cole met Phil Larson, whom she calls her “life partner.”
“We were together 29 and one-half years,” Cole said in a Monday, July 23, 2018 interview.
Larson was chair of the Jennie-O team that participates each year in the Barron County American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
“Phil chaired (the team) for at least 15 years,” Cole said. “He involved the whole plant. We’d make up (gift) baskets for fundraisers, we’d get Packer and Brewer tickets (for additional fundraisers) and we always had a bake sale right in front of the (Jennie-O) plant just before the Relay.”1
Cole was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2015, so her struggle with the disease put even more emphasis on the work she and Phil were doing with the Relay for Life.
Larson was there to help out, as were other people in Cole’s life.
“The loss of my hair was tough,” she said. “Phil suggested shopping for a scarf. And later, I met a nurse who was a survivor, herself, and would give me pep talks. I also heard about the ‘Six F’s’ -- faith, fight, forward, family, friends, future. I diligently say that every day of my life.”
But the Relay for Life took on an extra meaning for Cole after Larson suffered a stroke and, later, passed away on June 15, 2018.
“After Phil’s stroke, he was not gaining much ground,” Cole said. Larson died about 11 months after the stroke, she added.
“A blessing when he left, but we’ll meet again,” Cole said.
The “Six F’s” have helped with this latest challenge in her life, and so has Living Water Church, Cameron, Cole added.
“Pastor Ned Lenhart has been an amazing guy,” she said.
Since her diagnosis, Cole underwent radiation, chemotherapy and also tried oral medications. But she didn’t adapt well to the meds and, although immunotherapy brought the lung cancer under control, it has spread to her lymph nodes.
“So now, we’re working on the lymph nodes,” she said. “I go for treatment here in Barron, once every three weeks. We’ll do it as long as it takes. One of the chemo nurses is my daughter-in-law, so that’s been good. (The sessions) have become more of a breakfast club than the immunotherapy. It’s been an amazing journey.”
When she takes the survivor lap at Barron High School this Friday, Cole and her sister, Sharon Paulson, will be carrying a banner with Phil Larson’s photo on it.
“We donated all of Phil’s memorials to Jennie-O for the Relay,” she said.
Cole is the mother of three grown sons, Jeremy (Kristin), Ben (Stacy) and Matt (Catherine). She also has 15 grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 20.