Courtesy of Linda Bouvet, LSSU Marketing & Sports Information
SAULT STE. MARIE --
Jim Cooper, 79, who died Wednesday following a lengthy illness, sat at the Lake Superior State basketball press table with Dave Gonyeau, Ben Jones and John Askwith for more than three decades. All retired teachers for the Sault Schools, the foursome brought a calming and professional presence to what can often be a chaotic stage.
Illness forced Cooper to close up the scorebook two years ago, but he never lost his love for Laker basketball or his desire to help others.
"We were four teachers, and three of us were principals," said Jones, who continues as the Lakers' shot clock operator. "There is a comfort zone working with those guys."
"We were there together over 35 years," said Gonyeau, the Lakers' public address announcer. "He was fun to work with. We liked the interplay back and forth – to outthink the coaches and referees. He just made it a fun job."
Cooper was known for his natural athletic ability, sense of humor, being an exemplary teacher and principal, his love of swinging a hammer and his friendship.
"He was a good friend and neighbor," Jones said. "People just liked him. I don't know of anybody who didn't like Jim Cooper."
Pat Bullock, mother of LSSU Director of Athletics Kris Dunbar, taught at Washington School and was supervised by, among others, Jones and Cooper -- two of her favorite principals. She noted that Cooper was serious about running the school properly, and his management style included humor.
"He loved to walk up to you in the hallway or come in your classroom with the students there. He'd say, 'Patty, Patty, take a look at this.' I thought it was something serious or relevant to the school…It was always either a joke or something that would make you laugh right out loud. Within seconds he was halfway down the hall, left you there laughing with the kids wondering what was going on," Bullock said. "Jimmy would do anything for you. I can't think of a soul who didn't love the guy."
"He was very fair, supported his staff and was highly organized," Jones said.
Then there was the mischievous side of Jim Cooper.
"It was one thing right after another with him," Gonyeau said. "The Joneses, Coopers, Hirschenbergers and us -- we took our 25th anniversary trip together to Hawaii. It was 1984, and we were all celebrating within a year of each other. Jim used to scuba dive with Tom Farnquist. It was storming as we were boarding the big plane to Hawaii. There's Jim in his seat wearing a facemask, fins and a snorkel saying to people boarding the plane, 'I'm your designated swimmer if the plane goes down.'"
Gonyeau also recalled when Cooper walked out on the Silverdome field with his favorite instrument, the pokachello, then was abruptly escorted away.
"He managed to talk his way back in," Gonyeau said of the memorable Lions game.
Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Tony Bosbous teared up as he talked of the close friends and devoted Laker supporters he has lost during the past two years – Cooper, Gary McClellan, Ron Mason and Gil Somes. He described Cooper as the Yogi Berra of the Sault Ste. Marie links.
"He loved life," Bosbous said. "He was kind of a character guy with his quotes…'If you don't cheat, you're only cheating yourself. If you don't mean it, it doesn't count.' Or, 'There's no such thing as a lost ball because someone will eventually find it.'"
Bosbous recalled some wild times with Cooper at the Lake State Classic and teaming with Cooper to beat his older brother Bud's team by one stroke at the inaugural Cooper Classic, which was originally held at The Rock on Drummond Island in the Fall.
"I was on Jimmy's team with Jerry Wartella and Duck Smith," Bosbous said. "Bud never let us forget it. Jim was a competitor."
Jim was the younger brother of the late Bud Cooper, who served LSSU for six decades as an athlete, coach and administrator. Both had larger than life personas. Jim Cooper was a member of the 1955-56 Soo Hornets basketball team that finished 19-2, averaged 101.6 points per game and was inducted into the LSSU Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. Jim Cooper still holds LSSU's school record for most single-game free throws (18). Bud Cooper was Jim's basketball coach – and tennis coach. Jim's introduction to tennis was Bud handing him a racquet and telling him, "You're on the tennis team."
"Jim was a good athlete," Bosbous said. "Con Metro was just telling me that Jim was his track coach. When those kids thought they were all the fastest, Jim went out and beat them all…He played every sport – Fastpitch, slowpitch, city league basketball, bowling…I golfed with him for 25 years."
"We used to call him, 'Jimmy the Jet,'" Jones said. "He was always on the go."
Following retirement from the Sault Schools, Cooper ran a construction business and the Elks Youth Committee. He was devoted to supporting youth organizations and part of the Burger Bash brigade that has raised thousands of dollars for youth teams.
"He could do anything," Gonyeau said.
Cooper's obituary and funeral information are available on the Clark Bailey Newhouse web site.