Peter J. Longo is a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He is coauthor of The Nebraska State Constitution: A Reference Guide, Second Edition (Nebraska, 2009) and Great Plains Politics (Bison Books, 2018) in the Discover the Great Plains Series.
Thank you, Ed Cook
Great Plains Politics concluded with “Thank you.” The gratitude is for the contributors of community life on the Great Plains and for the readers. I note with great sorrow and fondness that a good contributor and likely reader, Ed Cook, died on August 13, 2018. Ed Cook imbued the qualities of a good citizen. He and his equally good citizen wife, Betty, were married for 67 years. They profoundly contributed to the community life of the Great Plains.
Ed was a third generation attorney from Lexington, Nebraska. Citizen-lawyers positively impact the good life of the Great Plains. Ed, and other plains lawyers, have saved mom-and-pop businesses, constructed community development grants, advised local boards, defended fellow residents, and much more. His friend and colleague Federal Judge Kopf provides a poignant blog entry underscoring Ed’s many contributions. I will try to add a few perspectives of my own, especially as they fit with Great Plains Politics.
In the early 2000s, Ed and I were members of the Nebraska Humanities Council, now called Humanities Nebraska. I knew of the well-deserved exemplary reputation of Ed Cook. His friendly nature and astute comments at our meetings drew me to him. I was pleased that he and Betty had moved to Kearney. We often shared rides to and from our meetings, often in Lincoln or places beyond. Our conversations often drifted to politics, including funding for the arts, county consolidation, community improvements, university politics, and many more timely topics. Ed not only raised issues, he also formulated well-constructed solutions and acted accordingly.
On one of our rides Ed expressed that he and Betty wanted to help me with my work at UNK, in particular in my position as honors director. Our discussion had only carried us a few miles down I-80 when he knew that our students needed scholarship assistance. The Honors Program lacked the resources of other programs, but the program did not lack hard-working, intelligent students who were also in search of scholarships. I dropped Ed off at his home and a few hours later he called to inform me that Betty was on board. The “Cook Scholars” were born. Ed and Betty frequently hosted the scholars, Betty always providing a delicious meal. The dinner conversations were seminars directed to the importance of positively contributing to community life. You can find the positive impact from Betty and Ed’s generosity and influence as the Cook alumni continue to make positive impacts on their respective communities. On a side-note, Ed and Betty also reached out to the international students at UNK. Students from many nations benefited from the warm hospitality of Ed and Betty. Their Great Plains hospitality served the students well.
Community was at the heart of Ed’s politics. His work as a lawyer and banker was guided by his understanding of good citizenship. His influence on the “Community Redevelopment Authority” provided tax increment financing for the town of Gothenburg, Nebraska. The town continues to thrive from Ed’s influence. In 1993 he was the moving force for Dawson County to receive the All-American County Award from President Clinton.
A final illustration of Ed’s political understanding comes from his actions as a citizen-farmer. He and Betty worked the land, in addition to their many other commitments. When approached to relinquish water rights for an increase in surface water on the Platte River, Ed was quoted in the Lincoln Journal Star, “We all like to contribute if we can… if it doesn’t hurt us individually too much. It’s one of those things where you’d always like to help, but at what cost?” Ed had a natural understanding of justice. His understanding encouraged the individual while promoting the greater community good.
There are many more examples of Ed’s contribution to political life and the well-being of communities. Great Plains Politics explored how “community leaders shared their talents with others to perpetuate community life.” Ed Cook certainly shared his talents and his positive influence can be found in the many communities and people throughout Nebraska and beyond. He will be missed by many and I certainly miss him. I was but one of the thousands he helped in guiding others to consider the importance of contributing to the life of community.
Thank you, Ed.