Mona Fox’s community involvement really grew roots when a local business owner, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “If not you, who?”
It was a powerful statement from a powerful man, the late Ralph Mirman who owned longtime furniture store Mirman’s in downtown Wausau. Fox met him when she worked for the local newspaper in 1991. She describes him as a tough businessman, a founding father and a prominent figure in downtown development. “He must have seen something in me, because he tapped me early on to get involved in the community,” she said. “Perhaps it was a test or a challenge, one I took because you didn’t say no to this man. Either way, I’m glad I accepted because he started me on a course that has brought me many blessings in this community.”
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Chief operating officer, Ameriprise Financial/ Cornerston Advisors, Wausau
The blessings extend to the greater Wausau community as well. Today, Fox serves as the chief operating officer of Ameriprise Financial/ Cornerstone Advisors, the business her husband, Ted Fox, owns. They and their daughter and twin sons live in Weston with the children attending school in Wausau and the firm’s main office being there as well.
That’s just as well as much of Fox’s current volunteer activity resides with the Newman Catholic Schools her children attend as well as the buildup for creating a Marathon County Children’s Museum. She has served as the school strategic-planning board domain chairperson since 2017 as a way to contribute to her children’s education. Her involvement with the museum dates back more than four years when she recognized the need for one in the community. “Many of our travels as a family to bigger cities included being fortunate to visit many children’s museums. It struck me as unfortunate that Wausau didn’t have one.”
The founders group — a small group of women working in a grassroots fashion — asked Fox if she would be interested in helping to make a STEM-based, interactive children’s museum a reality.
“We all agreed we should have one, and so that’s how it started,” she said. The group currently is in the fundraising mode with the goal of opening around Thanksgiving 2020. To date, they have obtained about 50 percent of their $3 million capital goal and are closing in on announcing a building acquisition for the museum’s home. Work has included soliciting donors, developing plans, recruiting volunteers and more, but Fox has persisted.
“It’s had starts and stops over the past few years, most notable when the library space fell through, and the founders and I could have given up,” she said, “but we motivated each other to stay on course and forge ahead to foster a new generation of learners.”
Fox’s planning abilities, can-do attitude and do-er mentality are often the reasons she’s called upon for volunteer activities. “Most people who know me or have heard of me say, ‘She’s the type of person who gets things done,’ ” Fox said.
That often entails employing creativity, something Fox thrives on. She was once nicknamed “Martha” after Martha Stewart because of her craftiness with home-related things. Beyond that, she defines her creativity as playing devil’s advocate and coming up with unique solutions to common problems.
One example that comes to mind is the Be4 Middle School program she spearheaded through her role as a Girl Scout troop leader. Fox was a troop leader, leading her daughter through each stage of Girl Scouts from kindergarten to 7th grade.
That included brainstorming the creation of a session she established for 5th grade girls preparing to embrace new challenges to be found in their middle-school years. After talking to parents and the leadership of the local council, she created a program that tackled delicate to difficult topics with a “be ready” theme for everything from bullying to puberty. Fox arranged for women to speak to the girls about these topics, including a pediatrician, police officer and phycologist. They wrapped up the program with a “she-mergency” kit for their locker, complete with girly things such as lip balm, bandages, a mirror, feminine products and other necessities.
“It stemmed from the fact that some of the girls in the troop were getting to the age where they weren’t sure if they wanted to stay in Girl Scouts anymore because they felt like some programming was a little young for them,” she said. “Several girls I had also weren’t necessarily outdoorsy types, and sought something more. I designed this program for them and based on their needs.”
Women also are at the heart of Fox’s continued involvement in organizing the Women’s Leadership Conference through the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce. She was a founding committee member in 2015, and the event has grown from 150 participants to more than 600 in the time she has served. This has involved doing everything from choosing speakers and planning the format to emceeing the event.
Supporting initiatives and causes related to supporting women, children and family are all near and dear to Fox’s heart. She credits family as well for planting the seeds to give back, having grown up the youngest of 11 children in a farm family in nearby Colby. Yet in spite of the hard work the farm required, and how busy they kept her parents, she repeatedly saw them give back.
“My mother was my most inspiring female mentor, and I aspire to be that for my children as well,” she said. “She had a very charitable heart.”
The Fox family often find organizations to support as a family. They adopt a family for several years at the holiday time, cook a meal for a local organization for the homeless and support church through bake sales and other events.
“The kids really enjoy doing these things as well,” she said. “They’re often the ones to ask me, ‘Hey mom, can we do this?’ ” she said.
Fox’s involvement extends to many, many other causes and organizations, from tourism to the YWCA and what she believes is the common thread is quality of life. “If I had to put an umbrella over it, it is quality of life, helping the people of Wausau to realize what a gem they already have.”
“We’re all busy and have demands and are torn in multiple directions,” she said, “but we can’t wait for the next person to do things or things may never get done. I can say I’ve gotten back tenfold, whether it be new friends or new experiences. There is no greater legacy than our children and making an impact on the next generation.”