Baseball

Joseph R. Cooper

July 30, 1924 ~ November 13, 2021 (age 97)

Obituary

Joseph Robert Cooper, Marshall’s “Mr. Baseball”, 97, lifelong devotee of youth sports, died at Maplewood of Marshall on Saturday, November 13, 2021, of natural causes, after a long, healthy and rewarding life. Joe’s career of public service included teaching, coaching, and mentoring to youth and athletes that spanned eight decades.

He was born in Greenville, Michigan, the second son of Joseph and Beatrice (Wieand) Cooper and spent his childhood growing up in the small town where his parents owned Cooper’s IGA.  Apart from the duties of helping at the store, he and his brother participated in all local and school sports, and he excelled at academics. His love of baseball was nurtured by his parents and there were many car trips to Chicago and Detroit to support their favorite teams.  Joe was the recipient of a Service Award by the Detroit Tigers in 1979.

Following graduation from high school in Greenville, Joe enrolled at Western Michigan at Kalamazoo where he intended to play baseball for the Broncos, but his studies were interrupted by World War II when he was drafted. He spent his entire military years at MacDill Field Army Base in Tampa, Florida, where he was on the baseball and basketball teams and served as a medic at the base hospital.

During these years he met and married his wife of 72 years, Willo Nona Jones, of Hastings, Michigan. After the war, they returned to Kalamazoo where he finished his degree while proving to be a standout athlete in college. (He was inducted into Western’s Hall of Fame in 1986.) He earned his Master’s Degree from University of Michigan in 1954 and Specialist advanced degree from Western in 1965.

Joe had a lifelong passion for baseball and was signed by the American Minor Baseball League in 1948 and played professional baseball with the Grand Rapids Jets. In addition, he was the head coach for the Battle Creek/Muskegon Belles, an All-American Women’s Professional Baseball League in 1952. On and off the diamond, Joe would meet some of baseball’s most beloved and notorious players.

Joe accepted a teaching and coaching position with Marshall Public Schools in 1948 and he and Willo moved to Marshall where they started and raised their family and remained in Marshall all their lives. Other job opportunities came his way which would have been more money and prestige, but Joe and Willo remained loyal to Marshall Schools for the entire tenure of his career in education, including roles of teaching, coaching, principal, athletic director, and assistant superintendent.

During his “spare time” Cooper officiated football and basketball games for colleges within the MIAA (Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association). This evolved into his appointment as MIAA supervisor of officials in 1971 – 2010.

Upon retirement from Marshall Schools in 1983, he accepted the position of President of American Amateur Baseball Congress, an organization he had been involved with as a volunteer for years. He moved the national headquarters to Marshall and served in that capacity until his true retirement from working in 2004. Cooper took the Michigan Stan Musial and Connie Mack baseball programs to a national level as a coach and ambassador, ultimately introducing amateur baseball programs into Puerto Rico, with an incredible 1,000+ teams in Puerto Rico alone. These years provided lots of fun for Willo and Joe and they enjoyed it immensely, having reached the Empty Nesters stage of life. They traveled all over the country, “on business” wining and dining baseball people, setting up conventions and meetings, etc. and, of course, sitting thru double headers everywhere they went!

Joe was a member of Marshall JC’s, charter member of Marshall Optimist Club, Marshall United Methodist Church and Marshall Country Club and numerous national sports organizations. He loved to play golf, enjoyed dining, and discussing fine restaurants and always maintained a great wardrobe, in which he took great pride.

He was named Marshall’s first Man of the Year in 1957, was designated as a member of the Michigan Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 1984 and inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2003, Marshall High School dedicated “Joe Cooper Field” in his honor. Willo and Joe served as grand marshals for the Marshall Christmas Parade in 2004. As recently as 2019 he was honored again when Marshall Schools decided to have its own Athletic Hall of Fame. He was the first pick among seven winners.

Mr. Cooper is survived by his four daughters, Martha (William) McFall of Duck Lake, Carolyn (Larry) Hughes of Marshall, Rebecca (Cory) Templeman, Crozet, Virginia and Pamela Jo Cooper of Traverse City. His legacy also includes nine grandchildren, nineteen great-grandchildren, and fifteen nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother, Charles  Richard Cooper, and his beloved wife, Willo, in 2018.

Visitation will be Friday, December 10, 2021, from 2 – 4 p.m. and 6 – 8 p.m. at Kempf Family Funeral & Cremation Services, 723 US Hwy 27N, Marshall, Michigan. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 11, 2021, at Noon with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. at United Methodist Church, 721 US Hwy 27N, Marshall, Michigan, Private interment will take place in Oakridge Cemetery. Memorial contributions are suggested to Marshall Public Schools, Attn: Athletic Department for the Baseball Program and Oaklawn Hospice. For assistance with memorials please visit the funeral home. Also, please visit https://www.kempffuneralhome.com to view the online obituary, sign the guest book, or leave messages for the family.

 

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Services

Visitation
Friday
December 10, 2021

2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Kempf Family Funeral and Cremation Services (Marshall)
723 US Hwy 27 N
Marshall, MI 49068
Guaranteed delivery before the Visitation begins

Visitation
Friday
December 10, 2021

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Kempf Family Funeral and Cremation Services (Marshall)
723 US Hwy 27 N
Marshall, MI 49068
Guaranteed delivery before the Visitation begins

Visitation
Saturday
December 11, 2021

11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
United Methodist Church (Marshall)
Guaranteed delivery before the Visitation begins

Memorial Service
Saturday
December 11, 2021

12:00 PM
United Methodist Church (Marshall)
Guaranteed delivery before the Memorial Service begins

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