Dr. James C. “Jim” Cooke (’72), longtime Abilene Christian University professor, outdoorsman and environmental educator, died Jan. 13, 2019, in Abilene after a brief illness at age 69.
A family visitation is planned for 5-7 p.m. today at Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut, Abilene, Texas 79602). Services honoring his life will be conducted Thursday, Jan. 17, at 10:30 a.m. at Minter Lane Church of Christ (2502 Minter Lane, Abilene, Texas 79603).
Cooke was born Dec. 28, 1949, in San Francisco, California. He grew up in nearby Menlo Park, graduating from Menlo-Atherton High School where he lettered in track and football, and was elected senior class president.
He was only 5 years old when his father died in a plane crash. His younger sister was born just a few weeks later. Cooke felt great responsibility for his mother and siblings, even at such a young age. Summers were spent in Arkansas with an aunt and uncle or in Cordell, Oklahoma, with his maternal grandmother. Those family members and Menlo Park neighbor Martin Franklin played pivotal roles in his early life, but growing up in a single-parent family would affect his worldview for the rest of his life.
He attended California Polytechnic State University for two years before transferring to ACU. He had never seen the campus or even been to Texas when he arrived in Fall 1970. He married classmate Cynthia Litton (’72) on July 15, 1972, after she graduated.
Cooke earned an M.S.Ed. degree in industrial technology in 1978 and an Ed.D. in higher education in 1994, both from the University of North Texas. He taught industrial technology in Texas public schools in Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Denton before teaching for a year at Western State College. He joined the ACU faculty in Fall 1982 to teach in the Department of Industrial Technology and later served as its chair. He taught in ACU’s Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from 2004 until retiring from full-time teaching in 2018. He received numerous awards for his teaching from state and regional industrial arts organizations, and at ACU.
He was a passionate advocate for the environment as an expression of Christian stewardship. In the late 1990s he involved students in the design and installation of solar panels for the industrial technology building and led a group of students to create the purple bike project, providing a small fleet of shared bicycles for student use.
After ACU’s industrial technology program was closed, he arranged for tools to be shipped to Honduras where he designed and built a woodworking shop for Mission Lazarus to provide vocational training for local young people.
He continued to involve students in rebuilding efforts through disaster relief, initially with a group he took to Florida in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. He took other groups to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and to the Bolivar Peninsula after Ike. In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, he volunteered with a group from Global Samaritan.
An avid outdoorsman, summers were spent leading young people on backpacking adventures. For more than 15 years he led numerous trips to the Weminuche Wilderness near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In more recent years he led groups from Minter Lane Church of Christ, where the Cookes have served for almost 40 years. There he was a one-man fellowship team, organizing annual fall campouts for more than 20 years. He sought every opportunity to bring people together through outdoor adventure, volunteer work projects and neighborhood efforts like Abilene’s annual Hillview Fourth of July Parade.
Locally, he was an early and ardent advocate for creation of the Cedar Creek Waterway project, spending many hours organizing student groups to haul trash and debris from the area. He was a longtime member of the Abilene Sailing Association and collected motorcycles.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Clinton C. and Alleen (Ott) Cooke.
Among survivors are his wife, Cynthia; daughters Jennifer (Cooke ’03) McMillian and Emily (Cooke ’06) Wardell; a son, Jonathan Cooke (’13); sisters Cary MacMahon and Cate Dudley; and six grandchildren. In addition to their biological children, Anita Vigil (’92) held a special place in his heart as an “adopted” daughter.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages memorials to be made to the university on behalf of the Jim and Cynthia Cooke Endowed Scholarship (Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132 or give online acu.edu/giveonline)