Aug. 12, 2011
Laramie, Wyo. - Anyone who loves college football is excited this time of year.
It's the dawning of a new season with all of the anticipation that brings. Everyone is undefeated with hopes and dreams that can hardly be contained. The excitement doesn't exclude anyone, staff, student-athletes, coaches or fans.
I'm no different. I was just as excited during last Saturday's "Media Day" as I was for my first one in 1966. It's always special to start a new season. My first one only involved the football program. Now that anticipation includes cross country, soccer and volleyball, as well. Everyone feels the same way.
There's an individual I know who probably looks forward to this time of year with more anticipation and enthusiasm than just about anyone. With apologies to The Reader's Digest, through all of my years here, he is my most unforgettable character.
There are very few associated with the University of Wyoming, or its athletics department, who don't know or haven't heard of Ken Cook. A wonderful guy, and quite a man, Cook is in his ninth decade. By no means do those years limit his energy. A man with incomparable loyalty to his university, he is a joy to be around, with perspective few possess.
A Riverton native, who grew up on a farm, Cook has excelled at whatever he's tried. An Ag major at UW--they called it Animal Husbandry then--and a football letterman, he jumped right into World War II after graduation, and became a highly-successful leader of men. His rank was major, and he was involved in one campaign after another in the Pacific Theatre. After the war was won, Cook got a job working in agriculture development for the Northern Pacific Railroad, which would eventually become the Burlington-Northern. His job took him all over the country, but all along that road he never lost touch with his university nor its athletics department. While he and the love-of-his-life Evelyn raised two wonderful children, he continued to rise in the company always with an eye on his beloved Pokes. After 34 years with the railroad, there was no question where he would retire. He wasn't interested in being a snowbird. He was going to live in Laramie, so he could be closer to his school and its athletic program. There haven't been many football or basketball practices that Cook has missed since retiring in 1992. That's what he loves to do. He doesn't putter in his shop, or play golf or even fish all that much. He watches the Cowboys and Cowgirls practice, and looks forward to the games. He does it all with the same enthusiasm as any coach or player.
Every time I sit with him at practice, it always makes me even more proud of this place. In his mind, there isn't a better place than this place. He doesn't hear as well as he once did, but at 90 years young that mind is still sharp, and his stories well worth hearing.
Take last Friday for instance. The Pokes were participating in their third practice of fall camp in War Memorial Stadium--Cook had been out of college eight years before the stadium was even built--and there he was sitting in the east stands (better shade at that time of the morning). I sat with him to hear which new players he liked and which of the veterans he thought would be better than last season. With a roster page rolled up in his hand, make no mistake, he knows the kids and their numbers.
As we watched, I asked him about his football days. This day I wanted to specifically know how the Pokes traveled in his day. With pride and longing, he spoke of a road trip to Wichita for a mid-November game with Wichita State during the 1940 season, his junior year. By the way, that season saw the Cowboys win their opener (7-3 over New Mexico), then tie Colorado State (0-0) the next week. Not a bad start. Unfortunately they would lose every game the rest of the season, and in the process score a total of 32 points the entire year!
Hard for him to take, sure it was. But those experiences do not diminish Cook's memories. He still talked about that particular trip as if it was to a bowl game. "We boarded the train down at the (Laramie) depot on Friday, and traveled all night to get to Wichita," he said. "When we woke up the next morning we were on a track siding in Wichita. We got off the train, and played the game. Those were fun times," he said with a smile on his face. The Pokes lost the game, 2-0.
Yet this man has always been a winner. All he has done is devoted his life to his country, his family and his university. His tireless devotion to all three would be hard to match. Heck, what he has accomplished at Wyoming is enough to fill a lifetime. . .UW Alumni Association Board of Directors, and its president; UW Alumni Association Medallion Service Award; Cowboy Joe Cub's executive board for 29 years, and its president; helped launch the club's Steer-a-Year program in 1995; chaired the Cowboy Joe Club's Albany County Blitz as it consistently broke the club's donation goals; winner of the club's most prestigious honor, the White Hat Award; Vice Chairman of the football Centennial Celebration.; a founding father of the UW Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame; a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2001.
While we all wish our lives could be meaningful, Ken Cook went out and made sure of it. If you see him at a practice one of these days, and he's always there, go sit with him awhile. It's an education. He has been one of the best friends this university has ever had. In about two minutes he'll be your friend too. I know this, I'm proud to call him my friend.
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July 12, 2011