Rural Schools Partnership News


James H. “Harry” and John T. Cooper at their plumbing and electrical wholesale supply business in central Springfield circa 2007.

Honoring the legacy of Harry Cooper: Rising to the Challenge

April 25, 2018

In memory: Harry Cooper


Mr. Cooper's story illustrates the power of rural philanthropy.

This story was originally published in “Passion & Purpose” celebrating the CFO’s 40th anniversary in 2013.

By offering matching grants to affiliate and educational foundations, the Cooper family built philanthropy across the Ozarks.

Since 1908, the Harry Cooper Supply Company has provided quality products and services to its customers throughout the Missouri Ozarks. But the company’s commitment to excellence extends beyond the marketplace. The Harry Cooper Supply Company and the Cooper family also have been regional leaders in volunteerism, charitable giving, and community service.

“My father made it clear that we had a responsibility to give back to the community.” —James H. “Harry” Cooper

Their public service is illustrated by Harry Cooper’s leadership of the Springfield Community Chest in the 1930s, James H. Cooper’s generous support of parks and recreation, and John T. Cooper’s aid to animal welfare organizations and service as a CFO board member. The family’s philanthropy has had a lasting impact in Springfield and the region. Says James H. Cooper, current Harry Cooper Supply Company president: “My father made it clear that we had a responsibility to give back to the community.”

When the Cooper family established the CFO’s first endowed fund, its priority was to support downtown Springfield beautification efforts, including this planting effort in 1990.

The Cooper family’s support of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks has a long and rich history. The Coopers established the very first CFO fund in 1975 — a public beautification fund for downtown Springfield. In 2001, James H. Cooper made an unrestricted $10,000 grant to each of the nine existing affiliate foundations at an inaugural conference held at the Springfield-Greene County Library Center. Ron Giedd, longtime president of the Greater Seymour Area Foundation, always considered Cooper’s no-strings-attached gift to new affiliates as a watershed event for his foundation and the others that were just getting started.

“Mr. Cooper’s generous gift did so much to increase the credibility of CFO and the trust between the rural communities and the Springfield operation,” Giedd says. “Ten thousand dollars was just a huge gift for the affiliates at that time, and it really provided momentum as we went back to our communities.”
“Mr. Cooper’s generous gift did so much to increase the credibility of CFO and the trust between the rural communities and the Springfield operation.” —Ron Giedd, Greater Seymour Area Foundation

Therefore, it was only fitting when in 2008 the Coopers chose to celebrate a century of business and service by making possible the Harry Cooper Supply Company Campaign for the Ozarks. This regional effort strengthened the CFO’s ability to assist nearly 40 rural community foundations in bolstering community-based philanthropy. With a generous $1 million gift, the Cooper family enabled the CFO to enhance community grantmaking endowments through challenge grants, establish affiliate administrative endowments, and promote best practices for affiliate foundation board members.

The program was a ringing success, as the 37 participating affiliates together generated $2.2 million in new charitable assets for community grantmaking and administrative endowment funds. The focus on unrestricted assets was particularly important, as building unrestricted grantmaking funds are among the most difficult tasks for any community foundation. Furthermore, unrestricted grantmaking is the most tangible way a new community foundation can deliver on its mission.

In 2011, the Cassville School District Educational Endowment Fund and Cassville Community Foundation partnered on projects including a Poker Run, a Potato Bake, a Dress Down Day for teachers, and an alumni appeal to take advantage of the Cooper Challenge Grant opportunity. The endowment’s annual distribution helps stabilize the district’s revenue.

The Coopers were not finished, though. In 2010, in conjunction with the launch of CFO’s Rural Schools Partnership, the family provided $250,000 to aid in the development of rural school foundations and academic-centered endowment funds. Once again, the Coopers’ generous donation allowed for challenge grants and pushed CFO efforts to provide rural-education advocates with technical and administrative assistance, board development, and planned giving advice.

The Campaign for the Ozarks occurred in two phases, offering matching grants for affiliate foundations and school foundations.

Like its 2008 forerunner, this second phase of Harry Cooper Supply Company Campaign for the Ozarks produced similarly impressive results. With 25 school foundations and local community foundations participating, the year-long program helped establish $750,000 in new rural school-centered endowments. With the endowment drive to accompany the launch of the Rural Schools Partnership initiative, the program has exceeded the most optimistic expectations.

The Cooper family and the Harry Cooper Supply Company exemplify what is best about the region and its people: A commitment to excellence in their family-operated business, a willingness to serve, and humble generosity. Not only has their financial assistance proved invaluable, but their confidence and support of our communities has inspired a generation of donors.

In memory of Harry Cooper, whose story illustrates the power of rural philanthropy.
RSP News Home