EUREKA, S.D. (KELO) — It’s a safe bet that few have been as active in South Dakota’s outdoors as John Cooper has the past four decades. That’s why Ducks Unlimited is hosting a ceremony Friday morning to honor ‘Coop’ and his wife, Vera.
A South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department public shooting area northeast of Eureka will be officially named for them.
Co-chairmen for the 11 a.m. CT tribute at Odessa Lake boat ramp are DU’s Darrell Reinke and the Izaak Walton League South Dakota chapter’s Paul Lepisto, both from the Pierre area.
Raised in California, John Cooper served two tours in Vietnam as a member of an in-shore undersea warfare group. South Dakota soon became his new home. He began a 22-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working primarily from the federal agency’s Pierre office, where he rose to be senior enforcement agent for South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska.
In 1995, Cooper received an appointment from then-Governor Bill Janklow to be South Dakota’s secretary of Game, Fish and Parks. Cooper continued in that role leading the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks through the first term of then-Governor Mike Rounds and stepped aside at the end of 2006.
But Cooper wasn’t done. He worked two more years for Rounds as an adviser on Missouri River issues. In 2010, Rounds appointed Cooper to the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission, the citizens board that sets hunting, fishing, trapping and boating regulations for South Dakota.
Then-Governor Dennis Daugaard reappointed Cooper to the commission. Cooper left the panel in May 2016 at age 71 as his second term ended.
”Nobody’s going to miss a step after I go out to do more turkey hunting and fly fishing or whatever I’m going to do with my kids or grandkids,” Cooper said at the time. “But I think I’ve set some standards that I think are important.”
He’s attended some commission meetings since then and at times has lobbied as a citizen at the Legislature. He remains active at the federal level, too.
“If it’s something on the Plains, they call Coop,” Reinke said.
Ducks Unlimited recognized Vera and John Cooper with a May 14 dinner and more than $440,000 has been raised for further waterfowl restoration work.
The Odessa 1 game production area is a 540-acre complex of wetlands where John Cooper liked to hunt and watch waterfowl. More than 3,000 ducks have been banded there.
A cairn and a plaque bearing the couple’s names mark the site. They are long-time members of Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and South Dakota Wildlife Federation.
A luncheon will follow at what’s known locally as Smalley’s Camp a few miles away.
Reinke said DU completed 62 projects in South Dakota during the past year, investing nearly $4.7 million and conserving nearly 80,000 acres. Overall DU has put more than $74 million into 925 South Dakota projects affecting nearly 975,000 acres.
Honoring the Coopers is a special occasion for Ducks Unlimited, according to Reinke. “We don’t do them every year,” he said.