Channahon man was one with nature
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent February 10, 2013 5:30PM
Updated: March 12, 2013 6:13AM
Joe Cook, mayor of Channahon, recalls his father’s reaction the day he first shot a 10-point buck.
“He reached over — I was 11 years old — and shook my hand like I was one of the guys, saying, ‘Great job, son. I’m very proud of you,’” Cook said. “That’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
Joe Cook Sr, former park ranger and caretaker for McKinley Woods Forest Preserve, passed onto Cook the “living off the land” survival skills he’d learned: hunting for squirrels, rabbits, geese and pheasants; fishing; searching for wild asparagus, as well as mushrooms — morels in the spring and sheep’s head in the fall.
“We made the ‘Duck Dynasty’ guys look like city folks,” Cook said. “It was the way we bonded. My mom would pack a picnic and we’d go off looking for mushrooms and then come back to throw a pole in the river.”
Born and raised in Channahon, Joe Sr. left his childhood village at 16 (after first fibbing about his age) and became a member of the U.S. Army 1st Calvary Division. This decorated Korean War veteran was once listed Missing in Action behind enemy lines for 121 days; he was one of the few to return home from Task Force Crombez.
When Joe Sr. came home, construction jobs were scarce, so he accepted one in California. There, Joe Sr. met his wife Mary; Cook was born in Santa Cruz. But Joe Sr. missed his family, friends and hometown. Industry had now come to Channahon. So Joe Sr. moved back with his wife and son.
“It’s where his heart was,” Cook said. “He knew the people; he knew the area and neighbors knew each other. People helped each other out. My dad knew it was a good place to raise his family. He wanted them to be in that atmosphere.”
Up to the day of his death on Jan. 18 at the age of 81, Joe Sr., with his high integrity, was part of that atmosphere. For example, after coming home following breakfast at an Ottawa restaurant, Joe Sr. realized he’d been given change for $20 instead of $10. He immediately drove back to return the difference.
When Cook’s brother was born with Down syndrome and doctors were encouraging Cook’s parents to consider an institution, Cook informed the medical team in short, but strong, words that he was taking his son home.
“My dad was a gruff guy and sometimes his language was a little salty,” Cook said. “But he always made sure my younger brother was cared for. My dad never turned his back on his family, friends or community.”
After Joe Sr. retired, he swapped his large commercial tools for woodworking ones. He carved miniature duck decoys and painted those ducks with painstaking and accurate detail.
“Half the time, when my dad saw ducks flying over the horizon, he could tell me what kind they were by the way they flew,” Cook said. “He enjoyed nature. He wasn’t just about hunting animals or shooting ducks. He actually appreciated the different colors on the different types of ducks. I don’t know how many times he let stuff go by just so he could watch it.”
Finally, Joe Sr. was very proud of the fact his son was mayor of the community he esteemed. It wasn’t the title that impressed Joe Sr., but rather knowing his son was performing community service. “That’s where the beam in my dad’s pride came from,” Cook said.
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.