Opinion: Hanging on for a conversation with Frank Cooley

phjeffburkheadThe first time I met Frank Cooley, I didn’t really meet him. I simply did what he told me to do.
For those of you who know Frank, you know what I mean.
I had heard of Frank, but I had never seen him, at least that I knew of, until my first Range Call parade last year. I’ve written before about how a man wearing a Navy dress uniform — I found out later it was Frank — called me over while I was covering the parade and said in no uncertain terms I needed to take photos of Orval LaBorde, who, the man told me, was a genuine war hero.
I followed the man’s instructions and shadowed Orval the two blocks or so he walked after joining the parade, before he stopped in front of the Meeker Hotel, where he stood at attention and saluted during the playing of the national anthem. I took photos the entire time, watching through the viewfinder as the man who gave me the instructions joined Orval in the middle of the street, took his hand, and walked with him the rest of the way.
Only later did I found out the name of the man who instructed me to take photos of Orval.
That experience was my introduction to Frank Cooley.
I’ll never forget it.

I have had the pleasure recently to spend some time with Frank. It was a treat.
When I am around Frank, I get the feeling I am simply along for the ride. So, I just try to hang on. Or, more accurately, keep up.
While Frank’s body has slowed him down considerably, his mind is as sharp as ever. Sometimes a thought will evade him for a few moments, but it will usually come back. Heck, I have those moments all the time, and Frank is 36 years older than me.
I’ve met some impressive people in my time, but Frank ranks right up there with the best. It’s not that the force of his personality is so intimidating as much as his intellect. You can tell that, in his day, Frank was one of the best thinkers of his era.
Last week, when I walked up the hill to his house in Meeker, before we began the interview, he led me outside and said he wanted to show me something before we got to the other “bull….” He then proceeded to give me a 20-minute geological history of the area, using his cane to point to the “hogback” ridges off in the distance. The geology lesson was way over my head, but fascinating nevertheless.

Interviewing Frank was a bit of a challenge. Not because he didn’t have anything interesting to say. But because he has so many interesting stories to tell, and he likes to recount them. Frank is a wonderful storyteller, but one story leads to another story, giving an interviewer little opening to ask a question.
So his colleague and friend Trina Zagar-Brown gave me a bit of advice for interviewing Frank.
“Controlling a conversation with Frank is not possible, but management is doable,” she said.

Toward the end of my nearly two-hour “conversation” with Frank, with topics ranging from skiing to peak oil to his love of geology, I told him I had a highly technical question for him.
“Which is the correct pronunciation, is it pea-ants, or is it pea-aunts,” I asked, referring, of course, to the mineral rich Piceance Basin.
“I hear it (pronounced) both ways,” Frank said. “I could take you down to the office and point out in the atlas of 1882 where they spelled it with hyphens. Pie-see-ants, is how they took the Indians to saying it.
“I guess we can do anything we want to, but I prefer to think that anyone who would say “Pea-aunts” Creek should be wearing a vest and spats. Not only that, but they don’t own a pair Levis.
“If the Oldland family would unanimously pronounce it Pea-aunts Creek, why, then that would have a little weight. But I don’t think either Pat Johnson, or the Oldlands, or the Burkes would (pronounce it that way). There are three families up there, and if they wanted to pronounce it Smith, I would be very happy to say Smith as the pronunciation for this word, because Norma (Oldland) and Pat Johnson and the Burke family all agree. They are the authority on it. Norma, she’s the duchess of Piceance Creek.”
That settled the question for me.

Rio Blanco County commissioners this week approved a $150,167 County Capital Improvement Trust Fund request as part of the monies to be used to build a new road off of Sulphur Creek, which will lead to the site of the new elementary school and provide access to the Meeker Recreation Center and the fairgrounds.
“The commissioners awarded the grant, contingent on (the Colorado Department of Local Affairs) giving us some money,” said Sharon Day, Meeker town administrator. “That’s very exciting.” The town will own and maintain the new road.

White River Electric Association workers put in some long hours on back-to-back days with outages in Meeker on June 20 and the Piceance Basin on June 21.
“The outage on Father’s Day was a systemwide outage to all of our Piceance Basin customers,” said Dick Welle, WREA general manager. “A severe lightning storm at approximately 11 a.m. passed near the WREA McBryde Substation, a direct strike … tripped the station offline. Power was restored about two hours later after checks were completed at the McBryde Station, revealing no damages.”

Pvt. Kasey Emhovick, granddaughter of Carl and Peggy Rector of Rangely, who recently completed a 19-week training program, is headed for a tour of duty in Iraq.
“My daughter informed me that our granddaughter Kasey will be sent to Iraq prior to Aug. 1,” Peggy said. “We will be saying a bunch of prayers for her. She will be the gunner in the vehicle she will be assigned to. She is the only woman in her platoon.”
Before her assignment to Iraq, Kasey will be stationed at Fort Riley, Kan.

I met Deni Saucedo, formerly Back, for the first time this week, though I’d spoken to her on the phone several times to get updates about her husband, Daniel, who was seriously wounded about a year ago while leading a mission in Iraq.
Deni, who, along with daughter Sineca, is in town for her 20th high school reunion, said Daniel had surgery recently, but there were complications because of infection.
Daniel has family staying with him while Deni is back in Meeker. Deni said they hope to return to Fort Hood, Texas, in August so Daniel can rejoin his unit, which returned from duty in Iraq in January.

Whenever I visit with Leona Hemmerich, who, along with Bill Mitchem of Rangely, co-owns the BedRock Depot in Dinosaur, I always learn something.
Leona is one of those people who knows a lot about a lot things, whether it’s Colorado history, or cooking, or native vegetation.
While complimenting Leona on the landscaping at her business, she pointed out a particular bush.
“That’s a rabbit bush,” she said. “Did you know it’s edible?”
As she handed me a “piece” to eat, I wondered if I was being set up.
Actually, it didn’t taste too bad.
Leona told me she’s even made rabbit bush wine.
“I like to experiment,” she said.

Leona also informed me that a tomato is a fruit, because it has seeds, and rhubarb is a vegetable.
OK, but now I’m really confused.

As someone who walks most places — at least around town — I get to know or recognize other walkers or bicyclists.
Last Wednesday was Colorado’s Bike to Work Day, so I asked Jeff Madison, Rio Blanco County’s natural resources specialist and planning director, if he rode his bike to work, like usual.
“I ride every day, unless it is raining hard (like last Friday), or the roads are sloppy with melting snow — my pants get wet,” Jeff said. “I’m not trying to make a statement or influence anyone; I just enjoy the ride and don’t like messing with a car on cold mornings. I think most people assume I got a DUI and don’t have a license.”
By the way, that’s not the reason why I walk so much. I’m just too cheap to pay for gas.

When I first moved to town, I didn’t have a washer and dryer, so I had to use the laundromat.
But I haven’t been back to the laundromat since around the first of the year, though I had heard it has new machines.
“Meeker Laundry has recently made significant upgrades,” said Tom Alley, owner of the laundromat.
Alley said the new machines are more efficient and use less detergent and water, which is good for the environment.
“The Meeker Laundry has been a fixture in our town and in continuing operation since the 1950s,” Alley added.

You may have noticed the work under way in front of the laundromat, on Eighth Street. It is part of a sewer replacement project by the Meeker Sanitation District.
“This is an ongoing project that we’ve had in the works for several years, where we’re upgrading and replacing old, undersized sewer mains,” said Gail Frantz, office manager for the sanitation district. “I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s for the betterment of the community.”
The $1.4 million project is partially funded by an energy impact assistance grant through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Frantz said she hoped the work, which will affect other streets and alleys in town, would be completed by the end of September.

Dessa Watson, Rio Blanco County Extension agent, is a big fan of the band Junior Giant. Her father and brother are members of the band, which will perform at a free concert on the courthouse lawn following the Range Call parade Saturday. I heard the band at Dessa’s wedding reception. Get ready to rock …

When I saw Chris Brasfield last week at Rangely Town Hall, the first thing she asked was, “Did you take the picture of Peter at the energy meeting?”
“Yeah,” I said hesitantly, figuring I must have done something wrong. “Why?”
“You called him Steve,” Chris said, showing me a copy of the photo clipped from the newspaper.
Sure enough, there in the photo caption, where someone had highlighted it in yellow, I saw where I had indeed referred to Peter as Steve.
“Oh, no,” I said. “I know better than that. I’ve referenced Peter in the paper countless times.”
“Yep, we’ve been giving him a hard time about it ever since,” Chris said, not making me feel any better.
I went to Peter’s office to apologize, and he was a good sport about it. He even said having an alter ego could have its advantages.
“Now when somebody calls town hall to complain, I can say, ‘Wait, you’ll have to talk to Steve.’”
Anyway, sorry for the mix-up, Steve.
I mean, Peter.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.