In the woods south of town lives an 89-year-old man. In a 100-year-old house. With a 200-year-old cabin attached to the back. His name is Vern Cook and he is leaving a legacy.
I spent this morning with my squirrelly daughter Isabelle. With a pudgy smile and a constant stream of jibber jabber I chased her around the house. When Mom finally came home we hid in a cardboard house while Isabelle giggled until we were found.
Later at work I saw a picture of Isabelle and Christy on my desk. It was then I thought of Vern and realized that someday my girls will grow up. My little goose will turn into a woman and that woman will have kids of her own. I thought:
“What lessons have I learned from this man about leaving legacy?”
Here are five things I learned from Vern Cook.
1: All the credit belongs to God
On Tuesday I asked him if I could take his picture for this article.
“The only way we are going to do this is if God gets all the glory.”
You know, the facts of Vern’s life are impressive:
- He sang around the region for more than 40 years in a singing group.
- He only graduated high school yet he retired as a vice president of First Financial Bank.
- He worked hard managing apartments and his finances. Then he invested heavily in providing homes for his kids and some of his grandkids.
- Now, both of his two children have grand children of their own.
I know I have missed a mountain of details. But you if you were to ask Vern (as I did) how all these things happened–Vern would just tell you he obeyed God and followed Him one step at a time.
“When I was a kid I prayed and I asked God what He wanted me to do.”
“Then God just opened doors and I walked through.”
Vern knows how to give God glory in everything with a smile on his face. This is something I need to remember in my life to give God credit in all things.
Or as Vern said,
“You have to listen to God.”
2: Life is about simple connections.
Vern loves to talk about his first wife Euleta (She passed away a number of years back.). From the moment he heard her play the piano he knew she would be his wife. Vern faithfully loved her for decades.
Each of the jobs Vern worked out over the years were simply the result of personal connections he had. It wasn’t that he was a professional networker. He was a hard worker with a good spirit. And somehow one connection after another God provided for Vern.
Vern also loves to talk about how he played matchmaker with Keith and Lorri Schuster.
“I knew Keith needed a wife and Cathy didn’t really like the guy Lorri was dating.”
So, when Cathy’s daughter broke up with the guy she was dating Vern simply made the connection and set them up on a date. Now Keith and Lori live on the farm with Vern in the house of their own with the kids and a grand child of their own.
From what I’ve heard I could probably go around Terre Haute and dozens businesses and individuals that Vern helped in significant ways. If I were to ask them (like Thompson and Thrift) they would say that Vern’s advice meant the world to them. If I were to ask Vern about it he would say he was just helping a friend.
3: Hard work matters a lot
Dennis Cook (Vern’s son) likes to tell stories about his dad. (When he’s not sharing many of his own stories.)
“Growing up dad would get home from work at five. Then he would take us to work at one of the apartments he owned. We would work on them till about 10 or 11 at night.”
Vern was an extraordinary worker. On top of managing multiple apartments and houses that he ran he worked full-time at the bank. Then, he practiced and traveled with the singing group most weekends. And on top of that he made time for regular attendance at church.
Verns life is not about the friends he made. It is about the extraordinary work ethic he had alongside the friendships he made.
4: Family is worth investing heavily in
About 35 years ago Vern bought 200 acres south of town and moved his family down there. Dennis still can’t get over the shock of Vern coming home to announce that he had just bought a farm. They had always lived in the middle of town. Vern was a banker for goodness sake!
Yet Vern had a version.
“I felt like God wanted to keep the family together.”
Now 35 years later Vern’s two children and some of his grandchildren have homes on that original 200 acres. Vern helped each of them to get established and he has worked hard to help his grandkids around town.
Vern has a gigantic porch on his old house. He needs it because of how often his house is packed with the kids, grandkids and greats.
Vern invested heavily in his family in many ways. Now he’s reaping the benefits of it with strong kids and healthy families.
5: Excellent craftsmanship matters
Anyone who knows Vern or his kids knows of his love for craftsmanship and working with wood. Both Elaine and Dennis learned to be detail minded in what they do. Now Vern that can’t do too much wood working because of his hands, Elaine (Vern’s daughter) and Dennis carry on the tradition. Our church and many houses in our church community have benefited from their and his skills.
Excellence matters. It matters for a banker. It matters for an apartment owner. It matters for a musician. It matters for a husband and a father. It matters for a woodworker. It matters for a legacy.
I am honored to know Vern. I know he’s not perfect. I just want to stop and take note of a few things I’ve learned from Vern in five years.
You know, Vern laughs a lot. I cannot shake in my mind the image of him laughing and his head bobbing back-and-forth as he laughs. He is in no way a joker per se (at least as I know him now) yet he laughs a lot with joy. I hope I can learn to laugh with Vern at the joy of the life God has given.
In a few hours Vern is going to get up at the ungodly hour of 4 AM. He’ll make a cup of coffee and then sit and talk to God about his day. Then watching the sun rise he’ll probably laugh about something and smile at all God has done for him.
I hope I can catch a little of what God showed Vern over 89 years. I too want to grow old with a laugh in my throat, a lyric in my heart, and a finger pointing to heaven.