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From left, Harry Cooper’s longtime friend Jan Stahle, BKD LLP Managing Partner Gary Schafer, Cooper’s nephew John Cooper and SBJ Publisher Jennifer Jackson pose for a photo at the 2018 Economic Impact Awards.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
From left, Harry Cooper’s longtime friend Jan Stahle, BKD LLP Managing Partner Gary Schafer, Cooper’s nephew John Cooper and SBJ Publisher Jennifer Jackson pose for a photo at the 2018 Economic Impact Awards.

Blog: Harry Cooper, a man few will forget

Posted online

Last night was really special.

Many in attendance at Springfield Business Journal’s Economic Impact Awards never got a chance to meet the night’s top honoree, but now few will forget him.

Harry Cooper, the third-generation owner of The Harry Cooper Supply Co., was honored posthumously with the Lifetime Achievement in Business award at the 19th annual EIA ceremony. He died April 22 at 91 years old.

A video tribute featuring friends and co-workers, as well as remarks made by his close friend Jan Stahle and nephew John Cooper were heartwarming. It gave those of us in the audience who didn’t know Cooper a glimpse into the life of a man who clearly made such an impact on those around him, and certainly on our city.

Those who knew him best said Cooper was a generous man, freely giving to causes close to his heart. Just one example was his generosity to help pave the way for our local parks system by contributing toward a $4 million expansion of the Cooper Tennis Complex on some 200 acres his father donated.

Although he was wealthy – his company peaked at $86 million in revenue in 2007 – he never made others feel small in his presence, said those reminiscing last night. He treated people like people.

His workers were his family. And no matter if a year was flush or tight, there were always Christmas bonuses, said Stahle.

His nephew John Cooper called his uncle disciplined, and got emotional as he shared that’s the characteristic he wants to pass on to his children.

It was such a clear demonstration to me of the power of one life. Cooper chose to live his life in service to his family, his company and his community.

When I first arrived at the awards, I noticed an older gentleman carefully studying a plaque with the article on Cooper’s Lifetime Achievement award.

I noticed his wife’s nametag, Jane Johnmeyer, and realized this must have been Bill Johnmeyer.

He was previously the vice president of Springfield Flying Service, the Downtown Airport manager and Cooper’s corporate pilot.

He told me he spent more than 6,000 hours with Cooper in a plane.

Quick math shows that’s 250 days.

No wonder he got misty-eyed as he told me about his friend.

Johnmeyer pulled out his phone and showed me a video of a special tribute he was part of for Cooper on July 18 prior to the Springfield Lasers game. Cooper was responsible for bringing the professional tennis team to town.

The tribute was a four-plane flyover with the missing man formation.

The planes flew together in a V-shape and then the plane 84-year-old Johnmeyer piloted veered to the right, leaving a line of dark smoke. That’s the missing man – a high honor to recognize the Navy veteran.

Cooper served as a naval aviator 1953-1956 and his friends say his love of flying never left him.

Accepting the award on Cooper’s behalf, longtime friend and sales manager of Harry Cooper Supply Co. Stahle said the sky was full of clouds that day before the Lasers game, and just as the missing man formation began, the clouds parted and a rainbow filled the sky.

“I’ll never meet another man like Harry Cooper,” he said.

I think he’s right.

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