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Cook Stories

Gus Oren and Iva Cook
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Oren Cook was a large man with a gentle soul. He was also very strong, having worked as a blacksmith for several years. There is a family story about him being challenged by some friends to show off his strength. Apparently, he won the bet, because he managed to lift the front end of a bus off the ground! He was also known for his wonderful sense of humor. He kept a small book in his pocket with notes about jokes he loved to tell. (None of them were crude, in fact he was remembered as being a man who never used cuss words). He had a photographic memory for jokes because all he had to do was read a couple of words from the joke and he could remember it all.

Throughout his working years he held various jobs, including taxi driver, working for a saw mill and an ice cream factory, a blacksmith and a truck driver. It was while working in Baker for the ice cream factory that he managed to obtain his "secret" recipe for root beer. Apparently, the owners of the ice cream factory encouraged him to open the first root beer stand in Baker, Or. using this secret recipe. His root beer stand became a great success, and he eventually added a small grocery story and gas station next to it. When the economy took a down turn, he decided to sell it and move to Portland.

During his early retirement years, he and Iva managed several motels on the Oregon coast. They often spent their leisure hours competing in local dance contests and won several prizes for ballroom dancing and waltzing. After retiring, they bought a travel trailer and often spent the winters in Mesa, Arizona, where they would meet up with friends and relatives who had trailers of their own.

Oren loved to work with wood and spent many leisure hours building small wooden items for the garden. He also loved to collect and polish ocean agates and had quite a collection of them.

Iva is remembered as a loving mother and wife who loved to knit and had a green thumb with indoor and outdoor plants. She loved to garden, and everywhere they moved (which was often) she would plant flowers and tend the garden with care. After their daughter, Margie, passed away they helped to raise their granddaughter for a while before she went to live with the eldest daughter, Helen and her husband, Gene Dooley. She also attended "normal school" before she married Oren, to learn to teach the lower grades. No one knows how long she taught school.

Although there is little known about Iva’s younger days, she did tell her children about growing up and migrating westward with her family from Missouri. Apparently, her father and several of her brothers worked for the railroad and the family actually lived on the train as they helped to build the railways. Research and memories have indicated that several of the Cook boys worked on the building of the Sumpter Valley Railroad in eastern Oregon. The family photo album is filled with photos of the railway cars with the men standing nearby, and several shots of Iva standing on the rear landing of a railcar.

As one of their grandchildren, I have fond memories of spending times with them during their visits to California, or during our visits to Oregon. I absolutely loved them and thought they were the greatest and most wonderful people alive, equal in my eyes to my other grandparents, of course! Each Christmas, grandma Cook (Iva) would knit each of us girls a pair of slippers and I always looked forward to receiving them. They were very comfortable, and by the time each new Christmas arrived, the old pair was just about to worn out. I wore them often. I have photos of my grandfather, Oren and me when I was about three years old, with him holding me by my knees (which were rigid) above his head. Not only was he strong, but he managed to train me to keep my legs rigid while we both performed this feat.

Sandra Branson Young

This site maintained by Sandra Branson Young