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A key for Cooper

Originally published: Nov. 21, 2012
Last modified: Nov. 21, 2012

Sherrie Norris

Every community has that special someone who is known as a good neighbor and friend — someone more concerned for others than for self, and one who is always going about “doing good.”

Not every one who fits that description, however, is handed over the proverbial key to the community.

During the recent New River Festival in Todd, I. S. “Buck” Cooper was presented “the key” to Todd, by Barry Stevens, president of the Todd Ruritan Club.

As a lifetime resident of the historic area divided only by the Watauga/Ashe County line, Cooper pays his taxes in both counties, he said, and has plenty of family and friends on either side.   

“Mr. Cooper is a great friend and neighbor in the Todd Community and is a perfect example of what it means to be a public servant,” Stevens said.

At 89, Cooper has done his part to maintain a spirit of unity among his neighbors. He has a storehouse of memories of the Todd and Fleetwood areas and a wealth of knowledge about the entire High Country region. 

The peaceful, scenic farmland on the banks of the New River that he has called home for his entire life has been in his family for at least 150 years, he said. 

His sons, Ronnie and Donnie, represent the sixth generation to have lived and worked on the fertile spread that has helped provide a living for their families through the years. 

Their current 200 acres, divided from the original Cooper farm, includes three dwellings, each more than 100 years old, a barn, numerous outbuildings and the Riverside Restaurant, (owned by Coopers' sons), were secured many years ago on the National Registry of Historic Places.

 “Many people who have moved into this valley have told us through the years that once they saw our farm, they knew this was the place they wanted to live,” he said. 

Named after both his grandfathers, Isaac Sidney Cooper, commonly known as “Cooper” or “Buck,” was raised during the depression. It was a time when neighbors looked after each other, he said, with no welfare, everybody made their own way, grew everything they needed — “and got along real good.” Things have changed a lot, he said.

Cooper “finished” school at Elkland High School in Todd, he said, and helped his father, who like his ancestors and neighbors, was a hard-working farmer and later in life, owned a general store. 

Cooper remembers when electric power made its way to the valley in 1938, which, he said, “made life a little easier.” Soon afterward, telephone lines stretched across the fields, too. 

The infamous ‘40 flood washed away his father's store — “and everything through here came to a stop,” he said. 

In 1946, the younger Cooper partnered with Bruce Greene in a feed and fertilizer business; he later assumed sole ownership and ran it for 50-plus years, adding crop spraying as another service. 

The store (located where the restaurant and the recently added kayak and canoe business is today), “did well for a long time,” he said, “until farming kinda dwindled out.” 

“R.T. Greer built the building in1896,” Cooper said, “and used it as a roots and herbs business. People bought their natural products there for him to buy, which he baled and shipped out on the railroad.”

Simultaneously, Cooper owned and operated a dairy farm for 53 years, “until that industry began to lose ground, too” he said.

Cooper began to experience heart problems in 1982, which led to open-heart surgery in 1988, and eventual total disability.

His son, Ronnie “ran the milk business for a while after I got sick,” he said, “but he eventually closed the dairy. He still farms the land and currently has about 55 heads of beef cattle on it.”

His other son, Donnie, retired from Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro in 2011. “He helps out around here quite a bit,” Cooper said.    

Among the saddest times of his life, Cooper said, was the tragic tractor accident that claimed the life of his brother many years ago, and most recently, the death of his wife, Shirley. The couple had been married for 65 years when she died earlier year. 

“She was a good woman,” he said. “Nothing will ever be the same for me again,” 

In addition to his sons, Cooper has one granddaughter, one great-granddaughter and another one on the way, the mention of which bring a smile to his face.

Cooper has contributed countless hours to local and regional organizations, including 20 years on the board of directors for Deep Gap Fire Department and 18 years on the board of Yadkin Valley Dairymen's Association which evolved into Dairymen, Inc., headquartered in Louisville KY. 

In April 2012, he “decided to retire,” he said, after 30 years as a board member for Skyline Telephone Company.

Cooper is a long-time member of Blackburn Chapel Methodist Church in Todd, (now under the auspices of Boone United Methodist Church), where he served as Sunday School superintendent and choir leader; his wife was the church pianist.

Cooper spends most of his time at home these days. His driver's license was renewed recently, but he only drives the half-mile to and from the restaurant, “when it's open and weather fit to go,” he said. “The boys take me wherever I need to go, but that's hard to get use to,” he said. 

He watches a little television — mainly the news, he said, to pass the time.

“People don't visit like they once did,” he said. “And, at one time, I knew about everybody who passed by, but things change.” 

Several plaques line the wall above his easy chair, indicating appreciation from several civic groups for his service. 

The one from Beaver Creek High School's Future Farmers of America, naming him an honorary member, brings back fond memories of when he supplied the club with fertilizer. 

The most recent is from Todd Ruritan, accompanied by the golden key.

“I didn't feel like I really deserve that kind of attention,” Cooper said. “I've tried to always treat people well and do what I could to help, but I never did anything for recognition. Todd Ruritan does a lot for the community and I appreciate them thinking of me in that way.”

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.