Celebrating the Life of Don Cooper
By Dale Smith
It is a cold, rainy day in the northwestern Montana town of DeBorgia—whose main claim to fame is that Don Cooper grew up and lived his life there.
Don Cooper was essentially a standup comedian who happened to create and use filmed antics of his brother Dennis and himself doing crazy things mostly in the western part of the US to entertain audiences across North America for over 30 years.
His performances were clear off any laugh-meter scale. At Eastman Kodak, I worked with the camera club Travelogue selection committee, and saw his performances fill a 2,200 seat theater. Because of his popularity, we had to schedule two nights for his shows, which led to scheduling all artists for two nights.
Don called DeBorgia a very small town, and on this day the small cemetery could barely hold the 100 or so people who came to show their respect for this man. The frontage road became a parking lot.
As soon as 1 p.m. rolled around—the appointed starting time—the sun started to break through. Its warmth giving a warm welcome to a great man and his family, friends and admirers, some coming from as far as Spokane, Washington, and Billings, Montana.
Sons Matthew and Michael stood on a pickup tailgate to relate fond remembrances of their father. Pickups are the principle vehicle in this part of Montana.
Matthew spoke of the fishing trips and Michael told how he instilled in them a positive attitude and to be optimistic through life. Michael, who lives in Switzerland, was the last to speak, and his final word was "laugh."
Then Don's wife, Ruth, was given an American flag by an American Legion group because Don served in the army in World War II. The closing sound of taps in this damp cold air of the valley forest was an emotional and fitting end to the graveside ceremony.
Afterward, people came to the Oasis: a combo restaurant, bar, casino, as well as gift shop, antique store, and Post Office.
I gave a little upfront talk to introduce the same hilarious video shown at Don’s 2003 Lifetime Achievement award ceremony in Las Vegas—given by the Travel Adventure Cinema Society (TRACS).
Never before had I presented a show among video gambling machines and a permanent poker table.
The video was a 33-minute collection of the most humorous segments of their Trails of the Mountain West. It was a howling success. It had been a long time since I had heard an audience laugh so hard.
Afterward people thanked me profusely for showing that DVD and saying how appropriate it was for this celebration of his life.
At a second showing, Don’s young grandsons, Matthew and Michael, sat in the front row so they could see their grandfather in action. Matthew told me that this was just what this celebration needed and I was very happy to be able to make it happen.
Near the end of the celebration I was obligated to give Ruth hugs for Dale and Gray Warriner of Camera One who made this original video and supplied DVDs for the family within 24 hours.
And I had to give her one more hug for all of us travel adventurers who knew Don and were inspired by him.
This entire celebration for Don Cooper raised our spirits to the mountain top.