Cooper’s Falls is a famous near ghost town with buildings that throw back to the 1940s and beyond. With old style gas pumps and a brick general store, it stands out at night lit by a single string of lights that cross the county road. And until this past week, there was the indomitable and generous light behind it all, Frank Cooper.
Frank Cooper was the grandson of the town’s founder, Thomas Cooper, and in August of 2008, a friend told me Frank spent many of his days semi-retired at the old General Store. I knew I had to meet this man, so I hopped in my Jeep and drove the dusty gravel track that ends at Cooper’s Falls Road, hoping I might catch him there.
I parked in front of the old courthouse, now the base of operations for an excavating company once run by Frank himself. The only sound was the wind breathing through the hundred year old pines that surrounded the buildings – a shed, the courthouse and the general store/gas station/private residence combination that is famous on ghost town tours.
I walked around, took a few reference photographs and feeling brave, I walked up the gravel drive to see if anyone was there. Frank and a friend were sitting on the porch behind the old General Store, taking a break from cutting the lawn for his annual party.
Frank saw me, he waved me over and invited me up to join them. He poured instant coffee from a stubby thermos and as warm and welcoming as the sunny summer day, we sat on that porch for an hour and a half, talking, laughing and watching flies bounce off the porch screens. It felt like I had always known him.
That was the first of several visits. Over time, he shared his family history over more coffee. Once I came by in the cold of November. The old stove pipes that snaked through the house were long retired, but the oil furnace heated the main level nicely while we toured old photographs and the tools of a general store left much as they were when Frank closed the store in 1960. Many of his stories stuck with me, including the old Boer War soldier who used to come in and sit on the post stool and share tales of far away places.
Eventually, after I moved away, our only contact became the exchange of cards. I looked forward to the Christmas poem every year. Frank’s kindness and hospitality left their mark.
I had no idea when I met Frank that I was going to write anything. I was just a painter of historical buildings. The book with a chapter of Frank’s stories from Cooper’s Falls was finally published in 2017. I was thrilled to be able to send him a copy so he could see how much his generosity and kindness contributed to my personal journey. It was an honour that he chose to share a part of his world with me.
So, when the news of the passing of my friend reached me last night, I was heartbroken. A WW2 vet and community builder, Frank was, in every way, a part of the Greatest Generation and a model for us all. Frank Cooper passed away peacefully February 23, 2019, just shy of his 97th birthday.
The world got a little bit smaller this week.
Frank’s Obituary can be found here.