Berry Willis Cooper, M. D.

In placing the late Dr. Berry Willis Cooper in the front rank of the citizens of his generation in Hancock county, justice is rendered a biographical fact universally recognized in the locality honored by his citizenship. Though a quiet and unassuming man, he contributed much to the civic and moral advancement of his community, while his admirable qualities of head and heart won for him the esteem and confidence of the circles in which he moved.

Berry Willis Cooper was born in Kentucky in 1828, the son of Elijah Cooper and Berilla (Noel) Cooper. While he was quite young, the family came to Indiana, locating first in Rush county, whence, a few years later, they came to Hancock county. After completing his public school education Berry W. Cooper studied medicine under the direction of Doctors Cook and Jones. He commenced the practice of his profession at New Columbus (Ovid), Indiana, about the year 1854, but subsequently took a course in medicine at the Rush Medical School, Chicago, under Doctor Brainard, and graduated with high honors. In 1858 Doctor Cooper located in Greenfield and enjoyed a splendid practice until his death, which occurred in 1868. He is buried in the Cooper cemetery. A polished gentleman and able physician, there were embodied in him those traits of character which ever command the respect of a community and his death, at a comparatively early age, was considered a distinct loss to Greenfield and Hancock county.

In 1857 Doctor Cooper was married to Malissa Hoel and to this union were born the following children, all of whom were born in Greenfield, where they still reside; Daniel B., born in 1858, who married Flora B. Marsh, daughter of Hon. Montgomery Marsh; George H., who is mentioned elsewhere in this work; William S., born in 1862, who married Minnie, the daughter of Jerome Black, of Greenfield.

Malissa (Hoel) Cooper was born in Ohio in 1835 and was the daughter of George W. and Catharine (Hopper) Hoel. When the daughter was quite young, the family moved to Adams township, Madison county, Indiana, and there Mr. Hoel took an active part in public affairs, serving as justice of the peace for Adams township and two terms as county commissioner of Madison county. Malissa Hoel received a good public school education and, as stated above, was married to Dr. Berry Willis Cooper in 1857. About ten years later she became a widow and thereafter nobly devoted herself to the rearing and educating of her three sons. She remained a resident of Greenfield up to the time of her death, which occurred on April 24, 1913, at the age of seventy-seven years, nine months and fifteen days.

In a brief summary of her life's activities, necessitated by the limitations of this work, one catches but a brief glimpse of the place she filled and the influence she had in the life of the community. Charitable and kind, she never lost an opportunity to say a helpful word to all with whom she came in contact. The following excerpts are taken from a memorial printed soon after her death and reflect the large place she held in the minds of those who had known and been associated with her. In the course of the funeral service, Rev. B. F. Dailey, who had known her intimately, said: "This large gathering of friends and the flowers which flooded the house where she went to sleep testify to the love which all of us have for Mrs. Malissa Cooper. We have paused here on the way to the silent city to bear testimony to her character…This sanctuary was to her the gate to heaven. Here came to her, from time to time, the vision of heavenly things and the inspiration of the higher ideals of life…For forty-five years she led a widowed life. Her husband, Dr. Berry Willis Cooper, left her in the morning of life and now, full of years, she goes to join him in that land where life is one perpetual youth. He left her with the blessings of three little boys, Brainard, George and William, and to their bringing up she devoted herself, soul and body. Time has told how well she succeeded…To this responsibility, which she fulfilled so well, there was added another, of like kind, in the closing years of her life. Ten years ago the hand of death smote the home of her youngest son and left four little children without a mother. These became the object of her love and care to the day of her death, and they will rise up to call her blessed.

"There was given to her also, in large measure, the gift of intelligence. In her early life she was a teacher in the public schools. She was a member of the first reading circle at this place, and continued the work until the course was completed.

"Her love of home and children and the welfare of others prompted her to donate her old homestead as the site of our public library. Over the path which led to her doorstep troop our hundreds of school children to quench their thirst at the fountain of knowledge. She was heard to say that she wanted only some small marker at her grave, for, pointing to the library site, ‘There is my monument.' With her own hand she signed the deed which gave the lot to the city, and there, within the entry of that beautiful building, a grateful public has cut in marble the name of Malissa Cooper.

"Chief among her activities was her devotion to this church. She was always ready with gifts and good words to help on the cause. She was faithful in attendance at the services. She kept her place in that front pew until she went to join the church above. Through all the cares and responsibilities of life there shone the personality of her Christina womanhood."

Under the heading, "A Retrospect," one who stood close to her in the family circle, wrote in part as follows: "In girlhood she was ambitious; she received something of an academic education in Rush county, Indiana, and then, her parents having changed their residence to a newer part of the state and in a country district, she taught her first school at the age of eighteen. She was enthusiastic in all that she did, and, finding that the boys could play ball without her help and guidance, she conceived the idea of giving to the girls some pleasing occupation, and, possessing some knowledge of embroidery and fancy knitting, she taught them these arts in addition to the other lessons- this comes among the earliest records of manual training being taught in the schools of Indiana."

"Her religion was of the substantial kind; she believed in and liked to hear, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,' her working hypothesis was drawn from the text, ‘I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith."

Mrs. Cooper gave much encouragement and help to young people and in addition to the education of her own children and grandchildren she helped and aided seven others through the high school.

Transcribed from History of Hancock County, Indiana, Its People, Industries and Institutions by George J. Richman, B. L., Federal Publishing Co., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1916. Pages 1140-1143.

Submitted by Sylvia (Rose) Duda, Laingsburg, MI November 28, 2001.

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