It is important that we reflect on these words from Jesus Christ on this day we come together in North Port to celebrate the life of Jerry Cooper.
The apostle Matthew wrote: “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
“Jesus said: ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Jerry Cooper lived these two commandments, especially when it came to service for others. The playing fields in our little corner of paradise weren’t always equal. Jerry did what he could to make sure his children, Jerry and MacKenzie, and his friends’ children were able to compete and have success that other children enjoyed in their schools and on the athletic fields in the neighboring communities of Venice, Sarasota, Englewood, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda.
Jerry Cooper got involved and then got others involved with him. He led and his friends and their friends followed, much as he did playing football and baseball at Winter Park High School. A member of the Class of 1980, Jerry was named to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.
“Jerry was a gifted athlete,” one of his high school coaches, Dr. Roger Dearing, the retired executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association, recalled. “He was a catcher on the baseball team, and in football, he played offensive guard and defensive tackle. Very seldom do you see more than a handful of players, three or four maybe, go both ways. Jerry’s favorite thing was hitting – he loved to tackle, he loved to go after the quarterback. But he also was the extra-point and field-goal kicker and he also handled kickoffs. Jerry was on the field for almost every play in every game.”
Dr. Dearing recalled kickoff return practices when Jerry would kick the ball off and then go down the field by himself and challenge the blockers for the return man.
“One against 11 – Jerry would try to get to the kick returner,” Dr. Dearing laughed. “He just loved to hit. But off the field, Jerry had a quiet sense of humor. He was a diehard Florida Gator fan – he’s loved the Gators since he was a baby. He was a good friend to have around. He was no-nonsense. He was dedicated.”
That dedication was never more evident than when he and his family settled in North Port in the early 1990s. At the time, North Port was nothing like it is today, a city of more than 66,000, the largest city in Sarasota County. North Port, a mostly rural community sitting well off the Gulf of Mexico, had about 15,000 residents in its 104-plus square miles.
Jerry, with his background in construction, got involved with North Port Little League and the North Port Mustangs, the town’s Pop Warner Football organization.
“Jerry was very passionate about his kids, was a loving father,” his friend Vince Weed remembered. “He wanted to make sure they would succeed and did what he could for them and others. Jerry was the one who spearheaded the construction of the concession stand at ‘Mustang Palace’ he used to call it. It was Jerry who organized it and got us building it. He did all the electrical (stuff) there – for the field, for the scoreboard he donated. He did all of that – the new concession stand, he did a lot of planting (of trees) down there. He was on the Pop Warner board – he committed a lot of time, a lot of his own money.”
When North Port High School opened in 2001 followed by Heron Creek Middle School, Jerry got involved with the schools’ athletic programs, using his electrician skills and his grilling skills – Jerry owned perhaps the biggest barbeque grill in town, and it would often make appearances at North Port Midget Football, North Port Little League and North Port High School fundraising events – to raise much needed funds. Jerry was a member of various booster clubs around town, and the trees which today bloom in the south end zone of the football field and around the outfield fence at the baseball field are there because he planted them and nurtured them.
“Jerry was the silent helper behind the North Port athletics program,” said Sascha Hyer, who was Little Jerry’s head football coach at North Port and now directs the defensive line at Venice High School. “He was a guy who wasn’t looking for any notoriety, but he was always appreciative of a thank you. Since I’ve been gone, I’ve received e-mails from people there for nominations for the North Port Athletics Hall of Fame. I’ve nominated Jerry twice in the booster category. He deserves to be in for everything he’s done.”
Of course, the only Hall of Fame which matters is Heaven. And you can be sure for what he did for others and how he lived his life, Jerry Cooper is in it.
Gerald Cooper was born on February 16, 1962 in Lakeland, Florida, to Richard Gerald Cooper and Margaret E. Klein, who preceded him in death as did his Stepfather Ed Klein, his Aunt Mary Kenn Walker and Uncle Joseph Irwin Cooper. He died on September 7, 2021 in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Surviving is his wife Tracy, his son Jerry Cooper II, his daughter MacKenzie Cooper, his grandchildren Harry and Nora, his stepmother Paula Cooper, his brothers Joe and Fred Cooper and his sister Kelli Williams.
For 26 years, Jerry was the owner and an electrical sub-contractor for Clifton Consolidated Inc. and had been retired for 10 years as he dealt with various health issues.
He was a member of the Free Masons, was the first president of the North Port Baseball Booster Club, was a board member of the North Port Mustangs and the North Port Little League, and was a donor to the North Port High School athletic department.
A “Celebration of Life” will take place on Saturday, October 2 at 11 a.m. at the Farley Funeral Home, 5900 South Biscayne Drive, North Port, Florida.