Hazard Businessman & Local Leader Dies

By: Steve Hensley Email
By: Steve Hensley Email
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His voice was unmistakable and his generosity was felt across the mountains. Well known Hazard businessman Vernon Cooper died Wednesday morning at the Hazard ARH. He was a man who certainly left his mark in this town and beyond.

Doctor Claude Vernon Cooper Junior loved the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

"Main Street of Hazard is my favorite place on this globe," he once said.

Cooper learned the value of work at an early age.

"My mother was always quoting George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and those types of people and my father put me to work in the People's Bank of Hazard when I was 14 years old," he said.

Cooper would later serve as president of that bank for many years but before that, he had a decorated military record serving in the Navy during World War Two. He was nicknamed "Bruiser" and he remained an expert on Morse code until the end of his life.

Cooper saw many parts of the world most of us will never see. He was an avid mountain climber. During one of those trips, he nursed a fellow climber back to health after an accident.

"The most exciting moment of my life was saving a life on February 28, 1979," he said.

Cooper donated his time and money to many causes, including the Senior Citizens Radio Day Auction held annually on WSGS Radio.

A few examples of Cooper's generosity include one gift of more than two hundred thousand dollars to help build an open heart surgery unit at the Hazard ARH. He gave thousands to a Christian television station in Beattyville. Just before Christmas in 2003, he helped eight sheriff's deputies keep their jobs. In that same year, the 1941 graduate of Hazard High School made the largest contribution in the history of the school district writing a one hundred and twenty thousand dollar check for the installation of lights at the high school's baseball and softball fields.

But there was one gift that put Cooper in the headlines across the state. In 1999, he wrote a five hundred thousand dollar check to his alma-mater, the University of Kentucky, to help pay for a summer football camp. That check was improperly cashed by former U.K. Recruiting Coordinator Claude Bassett who was fired after an investigation that also led to the resignation of Coach Hal Mumme. The incident didn't stop his love for U.K. or mountain sports. Cooper could often be found sitting on the sidelines or on the bench during Hazard football and basketball games.

He was an honorary coach when the Hazard Lady Bulldogs were state champions in the late 90's.

"I love these Lady Bulldogs. They're number one in my head and my heart both," he said.

In 2000, Cooper was given the East Kentucky Leadership Award for a private individual. His acceptance speech was memorable.

"When you have lived on this earth for over seven and a half decades, you don't expect to receive any more awards or rewards and as I live each day, my philosophy continues to be if it is to be, it's up to me," he said.

The awards kept coming until the very end and so did Cooper's love for the mountains and the people of Eastern Kentucky.

"I've been on 35-40 boards. I've tried to serve the people. I try to help someone everyday. I think that's what God put us on this earth for was to help our fellow man," he said.

The visitation for Cooper will be Friday from 4:00 until 8:00 pm. The funeral will be Saturday morning at 11:00. Both will be held at the Hazard High School gym.

Vernon Cooper was 83 years old.

He was called "Mr. Bulldog" or "Superfan" and Thursday night, Vernon Cooper was remembered at Memorial Gym in Hazard.

A tape with comments Cooper made about the Lady Bulldogs was played and there was a moment of silence.

He was an honorary coach for the team that won two state championships in 1997 and many of those players were at the game for a ten year reunion.

"He did so much for us, he got our championship rings, be bought us all portraits, he was just always there," Lori Graves Smith said.

"It's a very hurtful and painful loss for all the people of Hazard," Carolyn Alexander said.

"I would have loved for him to be here tonight, I'm sure he would have crawled in if he could have," Charlotte Sizemore said.

"The fact that Dr. Cooper cared so much about Hazard High School and the Hazard City School System that his final wishes were for his services to be held at the high school... I think that says it all," Hazard Superintendent Sandy Johnson said.


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