Gerald K. Cooper, 89, passed away peacefully on March 18, 2016, surrounded by his four children. Gerry was born in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 26, 1926, and moved with his parents to Washington, D.C., when he was two years old. An only child, he grew up three miles from the White House in the small-town Washington that existed before World War II.
In 1941, just as he began his college studies at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, he was called up by the military. Gerry served with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the Philippines for two years. After returning from the war, he and his college roommate hitchhiked across Canada for several months, before returning to Drexel to restart his studies. Graduating in 1951 with a bachelors in civil engineering, he began a career that both reflected and was driven by America’s post-World War II economic boom, and the subsequent Cold War.
Hired by Burns & Roe, Gerry worked installing underground missile silos in Montana and North Dakota as the nation’s nuclear missiles were deployed across less populated areas. In August 1959, on a blind date at the Great Falls rodeo, Gerry met JoAnn Ray, a native Montanan. After a whirlwind courtship, they were married on Oct. 3 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Billings, Mont. After 20 years of marriage, JoAnn passed away in 1980.
Soon after the wedding, he went to work for Bechtel Power Corp., where he would spend the rest of his career, retiring in 1987. America was growing quickly and the need for electricity was increasing along with the population. Gerry built power plants throughout the United States, beginning as a field engineer and eventually becoming a project superintendent. This took him and his family, around the U.S. and to foreign countries. The newlyweds spent six weeks living in Great Falls, Mont., and then moved to New York City; Abilene, Texas; Cardiff, Md.; Pylesville, Md.; Miami, Fla.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Englewood Beach, Fla.; Rockville, Md.; Niantic, Conn.; Silver Springs, Md.; Port Huron and Negaunee, Mich.; Damascus, Md. and Cairo, Egypt.
Along the way, four children joined the travels: Mary Alice (Billings, Mont.), Mark and John (York, Pa.), and Scott (Fort Myers, Fla.).
In late 1969, Gerry and JoAnn purchased a cabin on the Stillwater River near Absarokee, Mont., that would become integral to the Cooper family. Originally, the cabin was the annual summer trip for JoAnn and the kids; Gerry remained working and would join the family as he was able. JoAnn enjoyed returning to Montana near family and friends, and Mark suspects she was making sure her children experienced the Montanan way of life.
In a life that moved the family frequently, the cabin became the constant, a touchstone, a place of traditions, rituals and an enduring sense of place: their own hometown. For many years following his retirement, Gerry would spend summers at the cabin, returning to his home in Albuquerque around the time of the first snowfall in Montana.
Fittingly, the cabin became the site of Gerry’s final birthday celebration. John planned the trip, carefully approaching his dad in a way that encouraged him to agree to make what became Gerry’s final journey to the cabin. Gerry insisted upon taking his own car so that he would feel comfortable to share in the driving. He arrived at the cabin, after a 12-year absence, with a to-do list in hand, and a will to get it done. Scott and Mary Alice arrived at the cabin separately, and without warning, which surprised Gerry greatly.
Everyone pitched in, working together to tackle the list of chores. When Gerry became tired, a chair was found for him to sit so he could oversee, offer advice and be a part of the experience. It was not until a cake with “Happy Birthday Dad” appeared that Gerry discovered why everyone had joined on his trip. It was a trip filled with a lifetime of memories for all involved.
Born just before the Great Depression, Gerry was part of a generation of duty and responsibility. He worked hard to provide for his family, he served his country, he kept up with old friends and neighbors. He brought an engineers attention to detail and pursuit of perfection to all of his endeavors. He donated generously and anonymously to institutions that he supported. He did all of this not to call attention to himself, but because it was the right thing to do.
He was predeceased by his parents, Desha and Marjorie Cooper and his wife, JoAnn Cooper. He is survived by his children, Mary Alice Cooper, Md., Mark (Carrie) Cooper, John Cooper and Scott Cooper; grandchildren, Casey, Jack and Catie Cooper, and Nicholas, Sydney, Gracie and Chloe Cooper, brother and sister-in-law Bob and Audrey Waldo, and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 2, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Absarokee, Mont. Interment will be with his wife at Rosebud Cemetery, Absarokee. Everyone attending is invited to return to the church for a reception with the family.
A Divine Liturgy will be celebrated in Albuquerque at a later date.
Donations may be made to Cobblestone Restoration and Preservation Committee, P.O. BOX 176, Absarokee, MT 59001