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Changing Lives: Honoring Bill & Gayle Cook

Cooks are committed to an educated, skilled workforce

By John Whikehart
Ivy Tech-Bloomington Chancellor
June 17, 2010

The impact of the Cooks’ commitment to a trained, educated and skilled workforce are far reaching in both direct and indirect impact, and in areas that go beyond the obvious connection to life sciences activity. As they have directly impacted our Bloomington campus, I do not think it an exaggeration to state that we would not have one of the six biotechnology degree programs in our system if not for the presence of Cook Medical Group in Bloomington. That degree has not only been designed with assistance and input from Cook Medical, but our students now have the opportunity of that degree transfer to the IU-Bloomington biotechnology baccalaureate program. The biotechnology program internship opportunities created for students, particularly at Cook Pharmica, have helped make the Bloomington biotechnology program the most successful in our system. That commitment did not end with the student experiential learning opportunity. Of our first 10 biotechnology graduates, eight were immediately employed at Cook Pharmica.

The county’s commitment in 2005 to building the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences on our campus is a result of the prediction of new jobs in the bio-medical field, and the existence of that same biotechnology program. In addition, the State of Indiana awarded the second highest Strategic Skills Initiative (SSI) grant to this region as a result of the center and the life sciences partnerships. The influence of the Cook company on the design and delivery of the various career ladder opportunities associated with the center was invaluable.

Their commitment of time and service extends as well to K-12 education. Cook representatives, including Dan Peterson who also gives of his time to serve on the Ivy Tech-Bloomington Regional Board of Trustees, were among the community leaders who participated in 2004 in the MCCSC Graduation Task Force. A result of that effort was creation of the New Tech High School, and Cook Medical has been a major financial donor to its development and implementation.

I would add that an effort that may have flown under the radar, but exemplifies the Cooks’ commitment to our regional community and to training and education, was their commitment to the employees of the French Lick Resort Casino when it closed for renovation in late 2004. In January of the following year, 300 employees of the hotel were retained in full pay and benefit status while participating in a training program that Ivy Tech designed for them with the input of the Cook ownership of the hotel. I recall buses bringing those 300 employees to our Bloomington campus to begin participation in a five-month training program we designed under a training contract with Cook. Many of the employees had not been out of Orange County in years, most had never been in a college building, and the group included several generations of the same families who had been worked at the hotel under various owners. To say they looked anxious is an understatement. The graduation of that group at the American Legion Hall in French Lick the following May was as joyous and emotional as any academic commencement I have witnessed. One 80-year-old man had worked at the hotel for 50 years, and walked across the stage to be awarded his certificate of completion by Steve Ferguson. I am a believer that as children and grandchildren watched their parents and grandparents receive a certificate and one-credit hour from a community college, lives were changed, and generational cycles of under-education and under-employment were potentially broken by the example of their own families. Not many employers would have made that commitment to training, education, economic development of a depressed area, and improving the lives of people.

Mr. Cook inscribed a copy of his recent book, “The Bill Cook Story,” for me as follows: “John — We’re neighbors who are trying to do what is best for society.” It was kind of him to say so, but I’m still a work in progress. Gayle and Bill Cook’s contributions to our community, region, state, and larger society are many.

John Whikehart
Copyright: 2010