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As I am sure it is the case with so many of us, my Father is the greatest man I ever met. I mean that in many respects. Not only it that true for the responsibility he took on as a father but also the contributions he made to all of his children through love, guidance, mentorship and of course, discipline. The task was indeed a large one as I am the seventh of eight children born to Alex A. Cooper, Sr. and the late Arthur Louise Watson-Cooper, my mother.

The Missouri “delta” is where my journey began. Of course, the term “delta” is usually reserved for that portion of northwest Mississippi considered to be one of the lowest points in the continental United States. However, many people raised along the banks of the mighty Mississippi river have adopted “delta” to describe their home. This is particularly true for those born in the southern parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers.

Specifically, I was born in a small, rural agricultural town called Hayti (pronounced HEY tie) in the southeastern, “boot heel” portion of Missouri. Although the spelling is similar to that of the country Haiti, there is no direct connection, except that the founders of Hayti, MO modified the name “Haiti” to “Hayti.”

My father is one of eleven boys and one girl. Among his siblings, several have families of five or more children.

As one might expect, family “gatherings” are like conventions. In fact, I am still meeting cousins, young and old, for the first time. Facilitated by the age of social media, I will on occasion get a Facebook message with the familiar “hey cuz” to which I generally respond in kind, “hey cuz”.

GOD, family and education were the values espoused among the family. As educators, my parents naturally indoctrinated their children in their own core values. Education was the number one priority in my family. Although I am a product of the local public school system, I credit much of my early education and academic success to those lessons learned at home. As children, we were expected to supplement our assigned reading in school with the
classics: TheIliad and TheOdyssey, by Homer as an example. By middle school, I had read most of the Shakespearean classics.

I look back at these early, formative years of my life and feel overwhelmed with humility. I realize that I was very fortunate, that my parents worked very hard to provide me with every possible opportunity. Most importantly, they gave the kind of support that only deep love can. In our home, there were neither the necessities of life nor promises left unfulfilled. Christmas was the most anticipated and celebrated holiday. We always seemed to get more than we asked for and certainly more than we deserved. I am still not exactly sure how my parents managed to provide for all eight of us. My Father tells me he never made more than fifty-two thousand dollars in a single year. I was embarrassed to tell him I have made that much in a month.

The strength in my family was the belief in dedication to family. Family was always at the core of most recreational and work related activities. On Sunday afternoons we would all gather at my grandparent’s farm in Missouri. I, along with my siblings and extended family spent entire summers there working the land. The farm and the memories that have been built there continue to lure the current and succeeding generations. Each year for the past sixty-plus years we have come together on the farm for a family reunion. It is held at the same time, on the
same day-the second Saturday in August at noon. The roots of my family tree are strong and deep. I have been blessed with such a foundation.

My Dad is the unofficial family historian. He is never at a loss for words and is always willing to share his depth of knowledge on just about any subject one might suggest. This erudition is fueled not by hubris but on the contrary by his insatiable appetite for learning.Most of his stories I have heard many times before. However, each time he tells them I pick up on something new, a new perspective or way of thinking that rings fresh and anew. The
stories never get old. Several years ago, my sister and I encouraged my Dad to write a book about his life’s experiences. Not for his sake, but for ours. We hope to never lose those lessons and never lose the history that so many of us take for granted. It is our hope that The Father’s Project will inspire its readers to capture the history of their families through those who lived it rather than acquire it second hand from those who have to dig deep in the bowels of research libraries to recreate it. Enjoy!

As my Dad recently suffered a stroke, I became much more intent on getting our Father’s Project done. Here is his reflection on his life to this point.