Vernon Howard Coop passed away on Aug. 29, 2023 as a result of falling off a ladder at his home in Cottage Grove. He was 93.
Vern was born Feb. 24, 1930, in Estacada, Ore., to Zeona Asel Coop (ZAC) and Nella Grace Holgate Coop. Shortly before, Zac and Grace had moved to Cottage Grove, where he would start a foundry on South Tenth Street across from the OP&E rail yard. When Grace neared the end of her pregnancy, she returned to Estacada where she would have baby Vernon with family support.
Vern attended Adams Elementary School, Jefferson School, and Cottage Grove High School, graduating in 1949. He participated in basketball, track and field, and was active in student activities, including serving as class president. The family still has the ornate gavel he made at the foundry and used at student council meetings.
In addition to working at the family’s foundry from a young age, in high school and beyond, Vern worked at the Diane Movie Theater running projectors. He taught his brother, Duane, the job and another friend, Mervin Worley, joined them. As a young man Vern also followed in his father’s footsteps and served as a volunteer firefighter.
Dale Harris lived across the street from Zac and Grace on East Madison Street and taught Vern how to weld. W. A. Woodard Lumber Company hired Harris to work on projects at the mill and Vern joined them. Vern said he welded three-inch steel T-bars on both ends of hundreds of kiln cars so the cars could hold more lumber. When the projects were done, Cart Woodard offered him a millwright job.
At age 24, Vern could quickly climb catwalks in the two-story mill. Woodard had recently brought in a lead man, but that fell short when he climbed into the overhead crane and drove it the length of the building into the wall, severely damaging both cab and building. Workers had to climb down the rafters to safety. The lead man told Vern he was taking his tools and leaving.
On the spot, Woodard promoted Vern, a young, newly-hired millwright who was now the lead in charge of a half dozen older men, and they didn’t like it. Cart Woodard’s son Kris Woodard told the family that Cart liked Vern, “because he would do anything he was asked to do.” Vern was active in the Weyerhaeuser Activity Club, which put on organized events for employees’ children several times a year. The club is still active.
In 1975, Vern was promoted to maintenance superintendent at Weyerhaeuser in Springfield and shortly thereafter moved to Springfield. He retired in 1985 at the age of 55 when the company downsized and he qualified for a buyout.
A short time before, he had partnered with Jerry Knight and Mike Ryan to invest in real estate. They worked together to flip houses and when the economy tanked, bought several apartment buildings from banks needing to unload them. He and Fred Mercier also partnered on various real estate investments. As his mother aged, Vern bought several properties she owned in the Cottage Grove area. He put mobile homes on them and became a local landlord. He also moved back to Cottage Grove permanently in the early 1990s.
As a young adult, Vern enjoyed racing jalopies and motorcycles at Cottage Grove Speedway. He was inducted into the “Wall of Fame” in 2022.
Vern was a longtime member of the men’s club at Hidden Valley Golf Course where he enjoyed playing until age 91. Even then, he regularly drove the golf cart for good friend Herb Williams until Vern’s sudden death. For many years, until age 91, he joined a foursome and played in an annual tournament in Reno, Nev.
In his 50s, Vern was fortunate enough to play storied golf courses in Scotland, Ireland, and the U.K. And in his 30s and 40s, he was in several bowling leagues at The Cottage Bowl and The Bowling Green. He was also an avid deer hunter, enjoyed camping, and spending time at his cabin on Tenmile Lake.
With his creative mind, he designed, built, and used his woodworking or welding skills in various ways — including making his tombstone — until shortly before his death. He couldn’t sit still and made pencil holders, small boxes and bowls, and full-scale windmills to give to others.
Saying Vern was a “one-of-a-kind” is an understatement. There was never a rule he wouldn’t break, a boundary he didn’t push, or a line he wouldn’t cross. He was hailed for his boundless energy, though his methods were sometimes questionable. Vern was in charge and was going to do what he was going to do right up until the day he died.
Saying he was accident-prone is also an understatement. At age 10, when his family was driving to Seattle, Vern inadvertently sat on the door handle, dumping himself on the highway.
When he was a teenager, a girl at school asked him to cut a circle out of a small piece of hardwood. His hand was pulled into the saw at the foundry, permanently severing the last two fingers on his left hand.
As a teenager, he fell off a load of hay near Cottage Grove Dam. Later he was run over by a truck loaded with wood on Taylor Butte Road, resulting in a body cast.
At some point in his teenage years, he realized he had permanently lost the hearing in his left ear. In his 40s, he fell 40 feet while trimming trees on a hillside at Tenmile Lake and almost lost his right foot. Vern accepted injuries as a part of his busy life.
The philosophy “work hard play hard” was the epitome of Vern. He created an extremely active social life, always reaching out to friends, planning activities or events, or dropping by with ice cream bars, suggesting outings, or joining friends for happy hours and other events.
In the 1960s when Cart and Joy Woodard decided to sell their stately home at 1115 W. Main St., Cart offered to sell it to Vern. This large home would provide a wonderful foundation for Vern’s family, his friends, daughters, and step-daughters for many years.
Vern married three times: Pat Scott in 1952, and they had four daughters, Roberta, Nancy, Karen, and Marsha; Dona Lee Huffman in 1965, and he gained stepdaughters Shelly and Chris; Jean Miller in 1975, and he gained stepdaughters Lisa and Tami and stepson Todd. He then lived with Jean Schaffer from 1991 until her death in 2010. That union netted unofficial stepchildren Leanne, Feather, and Grant and their families.
Vern is survived by his brother Dale (Maralyn) Coop of Creswell; daughters Roberta Flora of Appleton, Wisc., Nancy (Ray) Shoptaw of Eugene, Ore., Karen (Mark) Soine of Everett, Wash., and Marsha (Willis) New of Boise, Idaho, grandchildren Logan (Jennie) Flora of Appleton, Wisc., Damon (Andrea) Flora of Maple Grove, Minn., Evan Flora of Appleton, Wisc., Brandy (Geoff) Steelhammer of Bend, Ore., Brent (Molly) Shoptaw of Kennewick, Wash., Kelsey (Mike) Nieraeth of Boise, Idaho, Calley (Grant) Schmidt of Ft. Worth, Texas, Alex New of Dallas, Texas; great-grandchildren Lexi, Louis, and Emmy Flora, Drew and Damon Steelhammer, Quinn, Elliette, and Gracen Nieraeth, and Olivia, Ryker, Dane, and Kellen Schmidt. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews, great-grandchildren, and by his stepchildren and their families.
He is preceded in death by his parents Zac and Grace Coop, sisters Nora Treadwell and Caroline Shultz, brother Duane Coop, nephews Dan Shultz, Tim Treadwell, and Mike Coop, and nieces Marolyn Simonsen and Cynthia Coop.
A Celebration of Life will be held on Sept.30, 2023, at 2 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Cottage Grove. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Elks Lodge Scholarship Fund in honor of Vern.
Arrangements in the care of Smith Lund Mills Funeral Chapel & Crematorium.