We are deeply sorry for your loss - the staff at Penzien Funeral Homes, Inc.
Mary Ellen Cook was born Mary Ellen Bender, in South Bend, Indiana on February 9, 1928. Although not the oldest of the children, she was placed in a position of authority, or she pointed out, when her older brother, Richard (Dick), would seek to force her into a role of subservience. Dick would try to force her to carry his books home, in addition to carrying her books.
Growing up in a Catholic home and school taught her right and wrong, and to both respect and to wield authority, a lesson she never forgot. Mary Ellen graduated from High School in 1948 from Logansport High School.
Pops long said of her that, “You could hold a gun to her head and she would not deny her Lord.”
As late in their married life of 67 years in 2012, Pops stated that, “She was the smartest person I’d ever met.”
Always head-strong and certain of herself, Mary Ellen went off to a Catholic Nursing School in Kokomo, IN for two years, as a means to make her own way in life, and to form a career and life for herself. As part of the Nursing training program, she moved to Springfield, IL for a year.
While one supervising Nun and a single Catholic priest encouraged her to read the New Testament and to find answers to her questions about her faith, Jesus’ life, and Catholic teachings, most others in her Nursing program and the Parish were not nearly as fond of her questioning nature.
She continued to ask questions of people who might help with her religion questions, which led to a friend introducing her to a Church of Christ minister; who fully encouraged her to read, study, and ask even more questions!
All of this led her to embrace the New Testament and to be baptized. Some of her new Christian friends wanted her to remain quiet about her new faith and her baptism, but the head of the Nursing School or Program began to ask questions of Mary Ellen. Because she wouldn’t lie, Mary Ellen admitted to a change of her faith and beliefs, leading to expulsion from the Catholic Nursing School shortly before she was to graduate.
Not knowing what to do, and being the independent sort, Mary Ellen sought the advice of the minister who instructed her to study the New Testament and to become a baptized believer.
Being from north-central Indiana, she was encouraged to enroll at Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois.
Not too long after she arrived on campus, she was nearly horrified by a seemingly loud and brash Bill Cook. She didn’t like his loud clomping boots, she didn’t care for his silly antics, and it truly bothered her that his reputation was of having been engaged FIVE TIMES!
When she spied him “holding court” in the college library, she went and told him off about his reputation with women, fully admitting, “It was none of my business!”
She never recalled exactly what she said to Bill Cook, and he could only recall that he liked the looks of her, and he couldn’t help but admire her spunk.
When into his 80’s, Pops fell, and gave himself a black eye. When asked what had given him that “shiner,” he said, “I told you it wasn’t mother’s right hand punch you had to watch out for, it was her left hook!”
After telling Bill Cook off, Mary Ellen was next surprised to learn what a nice fellow he could be, and that he actually was a gentleman, who was easy to talk to.
She would find out quickly that, because he was so friendly and chatty, at least three of his supposed engagements were assumed by the ladies or their friends, because he had been seen several times in the company of those particular ladies. Of course, this was the assumed way of thinking about people in the 1940s.
For example, Pops himself said that a childhood friend, Wanda Burke, was thought by neighbor ladies to become his assumed wife when they reached the appropriate age. He said, instead, we were just good friends.
Mother in later years would ask Pops how he knew the guy or gal he was talking to as he exited a store or shop. He would reply that he didn’t know them, he just struck up a conversation with them in the store (while she wasn’t next to him).
Mother and Pops only dated for three months before they married. Mother said of their very short courtship, “If you know it’s the right one, there’s no sense in waiting.”
They married on Christmas Day, 1949, a Sunday. They had to wait until their favorite minister was done with his church service duties before he could perform their marriage ceremony. Most college students had gone home for Christmas, so the wedding party was quite small.
The marriage was an adventure right away, with Pops needing to borrow money for their honeymoon and with them having the car break down. In fact, they met on September 9, 1949, and were married within approximately three months!
Mary Ellen said life was always an adventure with Pops, and she did not debate that she might have married him for entertainment purposes! With Bill’s preaching, they moved fairly often, but always while making good and lasting friendships within each church community.
Mary Ellen was an accomplished soloist and would often be a cornerstone member of the church’s choir. Her fellow choir members would ask to stand near her, so she would help them remain on key.
She raised four children, born in the order of girl-boy-girl-boy. Mary Ellen agreed with Pops that they were very proud of the people each became, especially in regard to serving the Lord and others.
Mary Ellen was an excellent complement to Bill in the church ministry because she had memorized scripture, and Bill could count on her rapid mind and incredible memory of passages and references, to answer questions for young and old alike.
When asked in later years how she memorized scripture, she said she didn’t. She had such an acute ability that, as she read the New Testament, she had been able to memorize it!
Pops was more than a little jealous of some of Mary Ellen’s quick wit and abilities. A well-known example is her being able to fill in difficult crossword puzzles in ink, which Bill could never manage to master.
Those same word-skills allowed Mary Ellen to become the family Scrabble champion, but Pops refused to play Scrabble with her, saying she was too competitive! The Cooks were certain Pops didn’t want to always be forced to lose to her.
Mother’s abilities served her well, as a sort of neighbor nurse. The Cook family will recall Pops asking her to patch up a very bloody Stevie Lucus while he screamed, “I ain’t bleeding!”
Mary Ellen served as the College Nurse at Eastern Christian College, because she could usually figure out what was needed, even if it was just good advice to the students!
Mary Ellen began selling Avon in 1979 and was very good at doing so, being a President’s Club member most every year, winning awards. There was some consternation from Pops with so many Avon products filling the house!
Selling Avon led Mother to finally learn to drive because Pops said he wasn’t going to keep driving her around the city and country helping her to sell, and yet he often did so.
Being in the ministry, Mary Ellen was welcoming to whomever Pops would invite home or just invite over, as he often did. She would never know, but Bill would at least try to warn her to cook up a little more food for their sudden dinner guests.
Pops usually wouldn’t get into too much trouble with Mother, but the Thanksgiving of 1994 landed him in hot water. Because the entire family was gathered at their home in Indiana, it was a very full living and dining room. With his two sons on either side of him, Pops said, “There are people, wall-to-wall people.” (The Cooks held their Christmas gift exchange at each Thanksgiving). “I wonder if we left, how long it’d take your Mother to realize we were gone?”
He next said, “Let’s get a hotel room!” He threatened to leave by himself, but his sons left with him. He got his answer the next day upon returning home, that Mary Ellen was so busy with family, it took almost two hours for her to miss Bill!
When Pops retired from working at AT&T and as a church elder in Elgin, Illinois, he asked if Mother would retire from Avon? “No,” she said, “You retired, I didn’t.”
When they moved from Illinois to Indiana, Pops bought them a house she’d never seen. His thoughts on the matter? “We’ll see how much she loves me!”
The Cooks remained very active in the church and community right up until Pops retired – again – from preaching in Indiana. Mary Ellen continued at a slower pace to sell Avon, as she also experienced a decline in her skills into her 80’s.
It’s been a God-filled and God-led life, and we are all the better for knowing God’s faithful daughter, Mary Ellen Cook.
Funeral services will be held on Thursday, January 6, 2022, at 1:00 P.M. at the Holt Christian Church, 2424 Washington Road, Holt, Michigan 498911.
The family will receive friends at the church from 11:00 A.M. until service time.