This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.
Madison Cooper is a legendary figure in Waco. He put the city in the national spotlight in 1952 when his novel Sironia landed on the New York Times' Best Seller List and was known about town as an
eccentric bachelor. But Cooper's greatest contribution to Waco was his philanthropic spirit, from sponsoring civic programs to establishing the Cooper Foundation in 1943 for the purpose of bettering Waco.
Martha Lacy Howe, great-niece of Madison Cooper, visited as a child the Cooper home on Austin Avenue, now home of the Cooper Foundation. She recalls the housekeeper:
"Bertha was there. After Mrs. Cooper passed away, Madison asked Bertha if she would stay and do laundry and serve him meals. And she was thrilled to do that. She lived in the garage—up at the top of the garage. And she was a wonderful cook and a lovely person. And she would call my mom—we lived on the other side of the lake—and she said, ‘Next time you come in town, come to the house, and I've made some cookies,' and—or one time a big cake. I mean, you just don't forget things like this. (laughter) And we would go in that porte-cochère on the side of the house and up those steps. And the kitchen was—always smelled good, and it was nice and warm."
Howe recounts a comical story about her great-uncle and Citizens National Bank:
"He would walk down Austin Avenue every day, and he wore kind of shabby clothes a lot; he worked at that. (laughs) He knew how to look nice. My grandmother would tell me all this. And he would walk down to the bank and go in where Mildred Rast, my grandfather and my father's secretary―we called her Pud. She was quite famous. But he would go down there and go through her trash and use her used carbon paper; take it home, and he wrote Sironia up in the top parts of the Cooper home and wrote short stories before that, but I don't think they sold very good—but on used carbon paper. I mean, I think he could have probably bought a small package at the dime store, don't you think? (laughter) But he used Mildred Rast's used carbon paper that she had already thrown away. (laughter) But he kind of worked at that—that aura that he—he worked at it; he liked it."
Cooper never wanted a fuss made about his philanthropy, as Howe describes:
"He had a reputation of being very tightfisted, but I believe he was a far more generous—even with his family, than he wanted anybody else to know. He gave a lot to Waco, but he gave a lot anonymously. He gave to the Community Chest, and they thought, Well, my goodness, Madison's giving some money to us; maybe he's interested. And they asked him to be on the board, and he never gave them another nickel. (laughs) So he would give it all anonymously."
Madison Cooper died at 62 in 1956 and left his entire estate of nearly $3 million to the Cooper Foundation. Using the income from this bequeathal, the foundation has been able to award more than $20 million in grants over the years to various Waco projects.
Living Stories is funded in part by a Cooper Foundation grant to the Institute for Oral History. Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For more information about this program or the Institute for Oral History, visit us online at baylor.edu/livingstories.
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