MENDOTA - Robert L. “Bob” Cooper, 81, of Mendota passed away Nov. 28, 2019 at Pleasant View Lutheran Home in Ottawa.
Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 at Holy Cross Church, Mendota with Father Peter Pilon officiating. Burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery, Mendota. Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Merritt Funeral Home, Mendota.
Bob was born Sept. 25, 1938 in Viola, Ill. to Ivan and Alice (Smith) Cooper. He married Donna Trattner of LaSalle on Aug. 14, 1965.
Survivors include his wife of 54 years; two sons, Michael (Trish) Cooper and Mark (Sally) Cooper, and four grandchildren, Anthony, Jonathan, Seth and Gabrielle, all of Ottawa; two sisters, Carole Waller of San Jose, Ill. and Sue (Dan) Duffey of Milan, Ill.; and two brothers, Bill Cooper of Augusta, Ga. and Jack (Genie) Cooper of New Windsor.
He was preceded in death by his parents; an older brother, Richard Cooper; and a brother-in-law, Robert Waller.
Bob grew up in Viola and attended Winola High School, where he participated in track, football and basketball. Strong and athletic, he was named one of the top five basketball players in western Illinois following his senior season. This began an inextricable, lifelong link to athletics and extracurricular activities. He attended Monmouth College in Monmouth, earning a B.A. in 1960. While there, he participated in football, basketball and his favorite sport, baseball, where he was regarded as the top catcher in the conference. He began his career in education as a teacher at Paw Paw High School and later taught at Abingdon High School, where he served as head football coach and sophomore boys basketball coach. He earned an M.A. from Northeast Missouri State in 1965 and his specialist education hours from Western Illinois University. His first role as an administrator occurred in Williamsfield, where he spent two years as principal.
Bob came to Mendota High School in 1969 and served as principal for 25 years until his retirement in 1994. Respected and beloved in his role as principal, he was always visible yet never more than a spectator at school activities and events. Strong and stoic, and always with arms folded, the soft-spoken giant oversaw a period of remarkable student achievement at the high school. MHS enjoyed great statewide success in academics, music and athletics, including individual and team victories in state mathematics and journalism contests. The school also enjoyed unprecedented state tournament success in volleyball, boys and girls basketball, football and track and field. Upon his retirement, Mendota’s gymnasium was renamed “Cooper Gym.” He received the Illinois Music Educator’s Association “Outstanding Administrator Award” during the 1993-94 school year. In 1994, the North Central Illinois Conference renamed the sportsmanship award as the “Robert Cooper NCIC Sportsmanship Award,” presented to one member school annually. He was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
A longtime community volunteer in Mendota, he was involved with the Mendota Elks Lodge, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Mendota Golf Club, Mendota Hospital Volunteer Services, YMCA Executive Board, Mendota Museum and Historical Board and Meals on Wheels. He was a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church and the board of directors at Eureka Savings Bank and served as president of Mendota Little League Baseball where he also coached. He received the Horace Hume Outstanding Service Award from the Mendota Chamber of Commerce in 1995 and was chosen as grand marshal of the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival Parade in 2008. He was an avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. He loved playing golf and enjoyed attending his son’s and grandchildren’s activities. He also relished having a morning coffee with his many friends in town.
Memorials may be directed to the Robert Cooper Scholarship Fund.
Online condolences may be sent at www.merrittfh.com.