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Ted Waddell | Democrat

DONALD COOPER SR. greets a well-wisher at a memorial service for his wife Barbara, who is still missing after being caught in the June 19 flash flood. At right is Mrs. Cooper’s daughter, Jamie Brennan of Jeffersonville.

Barbara Cooper Remembered

By Ted Waddell
FREMONT CENTER – July 3, 2007 — “Goodbye Nana, we’ll always love you.”
On Tuesday night, June 19 at about 7 p.m., Donald Cooper said goodbye to his beloved wife Barbara Clarke Cooper as she headed out the door of their temporary home outside Roscoe, en route to her daughter’s house in Long Eddy to help look after her kids.
“I’m sitting here and she leaves, and I said ‘Goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Donald Cooper, Sr., of the last time he talked to his new bride and longtime soul mate.
“And she said, ‘I don’t think so, because I think she’s (her daughter) working tomorrow’ and I said, “Well, when you get back I’ll be here,” he added of what turned out to be a prophetic conversation.
A couple of hours later Cooper got a phone call from Barbara’s daughter Patty Clarke.
Her mom hadn’t arrived.
“So I went out looking for her and found her car in the water,” said Cooper of finding his wife’s small four-door sedan abandoned in about a foot of water with the driver’s side door wide open. It was in a muddy area surrounded by massive piles of debris of the Beaverkill Road near Hodge’s Gym, close to the Route 206 intersection.
As the waters of the roaring flash flood started to recede, a massive search began for as many as eight people initially reported missing, a tally that soon became official last week: two deceased (retired school bus driver Fred Shutts, 81, of Roscoe and his wife Marjorie, 79) and two still missing (Cooper, 74 and Gertrude Melvin).
On Friday, night, the local community held a memorial service celebrating the life of Barbara Clarke Cooper (born November 23, 1932, disappeared in the Flash Flood of June 19, 2007) at the Fremont Center Community Church, Rev. James O’Rourke officiating.
Rev. O’Rourke read from several works of the Scripture, including Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
“All of you here today are a testimony to the person she was,” he said. “Rejoice in knowing her and rejoice in her love of the Lord.”
In the wake of Rev. O’Rourke leading the assemblage of an estimated 150-175 folks in reciting The Lord’s Prayer, he read a poem by an unknown author titled “Beyond Today,” handed down through the pastor’s family.
It reads in part, “… If we could know beyond today as God doth know/ Why dearest treasures pass away and tears must flow/and darkness leads to light/why dreary paths will/soon grow bright/Faith tells us so… ”
Richard Gilliard, a friend of the family from Poughkeepsie, stepped up to witness for Cooper.
“I met Barbara about ten years ago, and it felt like I’ve known her all my life,” he said. “She made you feel like you were really part of the family… I know this family is grieving right now, but I know that she’s in a better place. One day we will see her again.”
A couple of her granddaughters paid their respects to “Nana,” taking turns reading from a red paper heart-shaped address: Nicole Brennan, 9, of Jeffersonville and 10-year old Colleen Clarke Shepard of North Branch.
“One good memory is when Nana took us to Atlantic City,” said Brennan. “It was a lot of fun. She took us to the beach, and almost every day if it was raining, took us to the indoor pool. One day she took us to the beach. She thought she had her sandals on, but she was wearing her slippers. That was funny… The last time I saw her was at my recital at the Rockland House in Roscoe. I will miss her a lot.”
Shepard added, “Nana was the best. She wanted the best for all her grandchildren, and she always wanted us to be happy. I really miss her, and I bet a lot of other people do, too. Nana really loved all her family.”
During the ceremony, friends and family from both sides of the marriage packed the small rural church: Barbara’s daughters Jamie, Jodi and Patty along with sons Don and Rocky. And lots of grandchildren.
“This memorial service kind of gave closure to some people, but to me I don’t really feel closure because we don’t have her yet, so it’s hard, it’s hard,” said Jamie Brennan of Jeffersonville.
“The last time I saw her was on Father’s Day,” she added. “I saw them both, and I could see the newlyweds were happy.”
One of her granddaughters, Dawn Marone, came up to Fremont Center from her home on Long Island.
“She was my ‘Nana,’ always very loving,” said Marone. “When I was little, she always did my hair for me and took us swimming to the lake over by Woodstock (near White Lake). I’m going to miss her, but I think she’s in a better place.”
Jodi Clarke said, “She was a good mother and grandmother to my two boys.”
Betty Freidenseine’s grandkids used to ride the bus when Barbara was a school bus driver.
“She always provided for her children and grandchildren,” said her friend of 15-some years. “She made sure her daughter Pat had firewood, and got her other children to help stack it.
“She would always know you on the street and give you a hug, she always had a good word for everyone,” added Freidenseine.
Another friend of the family, Steve Luty, spoke during the memorial.
“Barbara’s probably already up there dancing around, but Donald keep the faith, keep God first in your life and he will take care of you, said Luty. “He has a way of lifting all your trials and tribulations through His grace and mercy.”
At his request, Donald Cooper’s oldest daughter Donna Cooper Singer, a noted cabaret and gospel performer sang “Unforgettable” by Nate King Cole.
Later on in the ceremony, Vicey Thomas of Hankins sang “Amazing Grace.”
Both performers were accompanied on the piano by composer Roy Singer.
During the memorial, Donald Cooper, Sr. sat quietly in a front row pew, flanked by his daughter Dawn Cooper, up from Washington, D.C. and his wife’s family.
“My first memory of Barbara was when she started seeing my father,” Dawn Cooper said. “I was very happy because I was concerned about dad after my mom died.
Cooper’s first wife, Camilla, suddenly passed away in the early 1990s.
“Then he met this wonderful woman who brought joy into his life, and I didn’t have to worry about him being alone again,” Dawn added. “Barbara was a wonderful thing that happened to him, a second chance at happiness.”
Afterwards, people adjourned to the church’s meeting house for refreshments and a time to share memories of Barbara among scores of pictures of her life.
Donald Cooper, Sr., talked about how they first met.
“I was taking care of an elderly sister, and she came in right away and helped me take care of her,” he recalled. “That’s when I started getting attached to her… we just hit it off together and became companions.”
About 13 years later and after Cooper sold his old farmhouse in Mileses to a young artist couple, they eloped to Conway, South Carolina and got married on March 9, 2007 in the local courthouse.
The Coopers were planning on settling down in the South Carolina house Donald was born and raised in.
“I think she had a good time in the time we were ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’ even in the time before we ever called ourselves ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’” said Cooper.
“We were very happy,” he said.
The search for the missing victims of the Flash Flood of 2007 has officially ended, but memories of them will linger forever.

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