Isaac Cooper describes life on the ‘other side’

~by Janice Harbaugh for GreeneCountyNewsOnline

The Greene County Historical Society hosted for a visitor from the “other side” on Friday, April 12, at the Cooper United Methodist Church. Isaac Cooper (1813-1902) was a guest at the monthly meeting of the Society and, among many topics, he spoke of the differences between earthly life and the afterlife. “Over here in the afterlife, there are no death or taxes. We learn from our mistakes and things are very happy.”

The town of Cooper was named for Isaac, though he never actually visited there when alive. On Friday, he came to Cooper to deliver a humorous monologue and history lesson. Cooper stated, “Everything in history is connected.”

Isaac illustrated this connectedness by examples from his own history. Born in Cooperstown, NY, in 1813, Isaac was a nephew of the American author James Fenimore Cooper who became famous world-wide for novels about America in the early 1800s such as Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826. The main character, Natty Bumpo, was known as Hawkeye. Because of the popularity of the character, the Territory of Iowa adopted the name in 1838 and Iowa became the Hawkeye State in 1846.

Isaac went on to describe his coming to Iowa in 1845 to become a construction contractor for the Army, building forts and other structures as Iowa became a state in 1846. Isaac bought the first wheat thresher and began farming in the Keokuk area, later moving along the Des Moines River to where it joined with the Raccoon River at Des Moines. Isaac married and had children, including a daughter named Frances.

The Hubbell family also came to Iowa from the East at about this same time and teenager FM Hubbell worked in a government land office. He became a lawyer and married Frances Cooper, later founding the Equitable Life Insurance Company and building railroads. The railroad going north to the Okoboji and Spirit Lake area needed a place for trains to take on water along the way, and the town of Cooper was born. FM Hubbell named it after his father-in-law, Isaac Cooper.

Isaac was well-versed in Greene County history and described the connection between General George Washington and the county’s namesake, Major General Nathanael Greene. Greene was at Valley Forge with Washington, later quashed a movement to replace Washington, and even later, was involved in the prosecution of Benedict Arnold and cohorts.

Isaac Cooper ended his monologue with encouragement: “We’ll all get to the afterlife, so be happy and enjoy life on this side now. The other side is even better. See you all later.”
Isaac Cooper was channeled by Cooper (Iowa) native son Dennis Peer, an actor and teacher at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls. Peer has acted and taught for 38 years. He attended Cooper School until it closed in 1959 and then graduated from Jefferson High School in 1962.

Peer’s grandparents, Ray and Fern Peer, came to Cooper in 1910 from Dexter and farmed, raising a large family. In World War Two, five boys from the family served in the Navy, including Dennis Peer’s father, Don Peer. All five returned from service safely and Fern received a letter of commendation for her sons’ service.

Dennis Peer (left) and Cooper classmate Wayne Taylor

After Peer’s monologue, members of the audience reminisced as a group with Peer about their high school days together. Peer recalled that in the 1950s, classes were small, with graduating classes of 12 or so. “Everyone was on athletic teams,” Peer remembered.

He also recalled that everyone was in the marching band. He said, “It was the only marching band that never went anywhere. We just practiced marching.” Other members of the audience contributed memories of baseball, basketball, track, teachers and coaches long gone.

In an interview with GreeneCountyNewsOnline, Peer described a strong connection he feels to a job he had before going away to college in South Dakota. He had driven a mail route from Jefferson through the small towns south including Cooper, Jamaica, Dawson, and Clive for Don and Anna Kuehl of Jefferson, Star Route contractors at the time.

Peer described spending layover time in Des Moines before bringing mail back to Jefferson. He said, “I’d go to movies as the theaters were near the Des Moines Post Office. But I had to pick the shorter movies because of the mail schedule. I never got to see the ending of some movies because I had to leave.” Peer’s mother Martha was postmaster in Cooper for many years.

Cooper Hubbell (right) was named honorary mayor of Cooper. He attended the Historical Society program with his father Michael Hubbell (left).

Peer’s wife Becky and daughter Shawna Meyer attended the event with him.

Also honored at the event were descendants of FM Hubbell. Michael Cooper Hubbell, great-great-grandson of FM Hubbell, and his son, Michael Cooper Hubbell, Jr., great-great-great-grandson of FM Hubbell were recognized and took part in the discussion of Cooper history. Michael Jr. goes by the name Cooper Hubbell and Chuck Offenburger of the Greene County Historical Society made him an honorary mayor of Cooper.

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