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Philanthropist Bill Cook dies

Philanthropist Bill Cook dies
Philanthropist Bill Cook dies
William A. (Bill) Cook speaks to supporters of the YMCA of Harrison County during a fundraiser at Cedar Glade in Corydon in the fall of 2003. File photo (click for larger version)

William A. (Bill) Cook, who became a billionaire but seemed at home with small-town folks, died Friday at his Bloomington home from congestive heart failure. He was 80.
Cook owned the 360-acre property near Laconia that became known as Cedar Farm. Many elementary students in the South Harrison Community School Corp. visited the property in the early 1990s as part of the Harmon’s Letter project.
Henry Withers of Laconia sold Bill and his wife, Gayle, the farm in 1983.
‘They’re fine people,’ Withers recalled Saturday morning.
He said the couple even ‘parked their car on the street’ at their Bloomington home despite being worth an estimated $3.1 billion.
Withers became acquainted with the Cooks in the late 1960s through Gayle Cook’s brother, who was a district manager for Pioneer Seeds.
The Cooks, who were coming to Harrison County ‘about once a month,’ Withers said, were more than property owners. They bought the old grocery store located at the Laconia four-way and restored the old schoolhouse.
‘When they restore something, they don’t cut any corners,’ Withers said while describing the refurbished school building that now is a community center and apartments.
He also was a major contributor to the campaign drive for the YMCA of Harrison County in 2003.
A native of Illinois, Cook graduated from Northwestern University. His wealth came after he developed a prototype, in 1963, for a catheterization process. He founded the Cook Group Inc. which, through 42 companies, has about 10,000 employees worldwide.
Cook was named the 1999 Indiana Business Leader of the Year by the state’s Chamber of Commerce.
During a private wedding reception on April 10, Cook was told by Gov. Mitch Daniels that he would be receiving the state’s highest honor, the Sachem, for 2011. Plans were being made to make the presentation next month.
‘As luck would have, Cheri and I were able to have dinner with Bill and Gayle Cook in the newly renovated Old Centrum Building just last Saturday,’ Daniels said Saturday in a statement. ‘I’ll always remember that bit of good fortune, as I will always remember this legendary Hoosier.’
Cook, who helped restore many Indiana landmarks, including the West Baden Springs Hotel, had contributed $10 million for the restoration of the 119-year-old Old Centrum Building. Indiana Landmarks is now headquartered in the building.
After consulting with Cook’s family, it was decided to confer the honor posthumously.
‘Bill Cook was indeed a rare person,’ recalled Judy O’Bannon, who was to introduce Cook on Saturday at a program that, instead, paid tribute to him. ‘He had the curiosity and enthusiasm of a young child, the intellect of a wise sage, businessman and scientist all rolled into one unique human being.
‘He showed great appreciation and respect for all people and was humble in his own demeanor,’ she said. ‘Everything that brought him joy, he shared with the world, from medical devices that heal to music that roused you to new heights. I never thought I would walk this world with such a giant.’