Communities of Greene County- Cooper

Everything's super in Cooper!

When you visit Cooper, you will have arrived in a very unusual place. Cooper is the only town in the U.S. with the Zip Code 50059. It is a place where we argue about everything, but still like each other. And, as it said in a poem recited in 1921 for the dedication of a new Franklin Township School, Cooper is a place "where everyone is friendly and society is good."

Cooper, with a population of about 30 in the year 2014, is the hub of Franklin Township, which has a population of about 200. The township is six square miles, on some of the best farmland in the world. A three-member township Board of Trustees governs the area. The board oversees the three township cemeteries, and provides for public safety and fire protection. As you look around, you'll also see the historic Cooper United Methodist Church, where you are always welcome at services. Anchoring our business district is Monthei Welding & Machine, and as you can see, other prime development locations are available.

The community was founded in 1881 when the railroad came through, and was named after Des Moines railroad executive F.M. Hubbell's father-in-law, Isaac Cooper, both of them pioneers in Iowa's capital city. Cooper's population reached a highpoint of about 250 in 1900. A devastating fire on Nov. 27, 1921, burned most of the business district. The Franklin Township School closed in the summer of 1959 and students from this area began going to school in the Greene County seat of Jefferson. Until the 1970s, the Cooper school facilities housed the junior high for the Jefferson Community School District, but in 1981, the aged main brick building was torn down. The gymnasium, which had been built in 1955, was transferred to private ownership in 2012 and long-time Cooperites are working on a museum of rural antiquities.

Cooper made news across Iowa in late July, 1980, when the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) brought 5,000 cyclists pedaling through town. As they approached from the west, a cannon roared a "one-gun salute" and a recording of the "1812 Overture" was played over and over. In town, the visitors found all kinds of food, drinks and foolishness. Three decades later, RAGBRAI riders who were here in '80 were still saying it was one of the best stops ever in such a small place.

In 1981, Cooper made even bigger news - across the nation and around the world - with its centennial celebration. The 50 citizens back then decided no one from Cooper had ever become very famous, so they decided to have a contest to pick an honorary 51st citizen who could help bring the community some attention. A press release announcing the contest tickled the imaginations of news editors and was printed and broadcast all over the U.S. Suddenly well-known people in media, politics, business, religion, sports and entertainment were submitting their applications to the centennial committee. The letters and calls came from well-known columnists, major college coaches, radio broadcasters, even governors.

But the one that really stunned everybody around Cooper was a phone call from the producers of Johnny Carson's highly-popular "Tonight Show" on NBC-TV, inviting three Cooperites to Burbank, California, to be guests on his show. Gerald Lawton, Terry Rich and Myrtle Whitcher were featured in a hilarious, 20-minute-long conversation with Carson during the show on June 17, 1981.

After that Carson show, the centennial was previewed in newscasts on the CBS, NBC, PBS and ABC television networks. The "Good Morning America" and "Today Show" morning news shows did stories. And so did newspapers from Los Angeles to Miami to New York City. That brought so much attention to this little town's upcoming celebration that when the big day arrived on July 11, 1981, a crowd estimated at 12,000 packed Cooper! Cars were parked in farm fields all around the town. A 200-unit parade lasted two hours, and there was a whole lot of other fun.

Today, outside the Trailhead Weigh Station on the Raccoon River Valley Bike Trail, there is a marker that still hails Carson as Cooper's 51st Citizen. It's true he never actually visited here, but it's also a certainty he'll never be forgotten here.

Meantime, all of those of us in Cooper welcome you!

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