Cooper is Super-Plus with addition of Stott murals

It was almost 15 years ago that residents of unincorporated Cooper and Franklin Township proclaimed “Everything’s Super in Cooper.”

Cooper proms in the old Cooper school gym, a pair of performances by the Celebration Iowa Singers and Jazz Band, and even a parade made Cooper nearly as “super” as  proclaimed on the red T-shirts the Committee for a Super Cooper sold as a fundraiser.

Cooper is now Super-Plus with the addition of murals by Greene County High School art teacher Sarah Stott. Stott has led her students through painting murals in Jefferson the past three years. Once the school year finished she was able to get to work on art commissioned by the Committee for a Super Cooper.

Her “canvas” is the Cooper Way Station, a restroom and gathering place along the Raccoon River Valley Trail seven miles south of Jefferson. The building was once the office and scale house for Milligan Bros Grain Company. Milligan Bros had 13 steel bins with a grain storage capacity of 196,000 bushels when the company sold the site to Cooper residents Doug and Gerald Lawton in 1978. Lawton Grain used the elevator until suspending storage in 1985.

All that remains is the office and scale house. It has been given new life by the Greene County conservation board as an enhancement to the Raccoon River Valley Trail. The building was cleaned and painted with a white base coat inside and out. New windows have been installed, and a new red metal roof will go on soon.

First, though, Stott had done an artist’s magic on three sides of the building. The largest mural is on the north side facing County Road E-53. According to Stott, the style is “retro pop art.”

The mural salutes the Cooper United Methodist Church and Monthei Welding & Machine in downtown Cooper, “where parking is never a problem.” There’s a painted photo of the old Cooper school, downtown Cooper, and the Milligan grain elevator, as well as a reminder of Cooper’s five minutes of fame on “The Tonight Show.”

Cooper celebrated its centennial in 1981 with a contest seeking Cooper’s honorary 51st citizen. Johnny Carson won the contest, perhaps because he invited Cooper residents Gerald Lawton, Myrtle Witcher and Terry Rich to be on “The Tonight Show.”

Johnny Carson dubbed the grain elevator “The Leaning Tower of Cooper”

The segment on “The Tonight Show” featured photos of Cooper, including one of the grain elevator.

A flyer for the 1981 centennial is still taped to the way station’s front door, a la Stott. The 3D painting looks so real that a person wonders how the mimeograph sheet has stayed there so long.

RAGBRAI® passed through Cooper in 1980, years before the RRVT was developed. Organizers of the RAGBRAI overnight in Jefferson Monday expect the RRVT to be highly traveled as bicyclists from Des Moines use the trail to join RAGBRAI. As they approach Cooper they’ll see on the south side of the way station the postmark used by the Cooper post office on RAGBRAI Day 1980.

The east side of the way station isn’t yet painted. That side isn’t easily visible from the road so it was left white. However, so many people have gotten off their bicycles or out of their vehicles to walk around the building that plans are being made for the fourth side.

When the building is finished there will be photos and memorabilia of Cooper inside.
~Editor’s note – All photos are by Chuck Offenburger


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