St. Thomas More Parish honors ‘an inspiration’
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It began with an honor and ended with a challenge.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Patty Waris presents the Bill Waris Award to Jerry Cooke at St. Thomas More Parish’s annual Souper Bowl Feb. 5.
Jerry Cooke, recipient of the 2011 Bill Waris Award, challenged the scores of people who came to St. Thomas More Parish’s annual Souper Bowl Feb. 5 to get the youth of the parish more deeply involved in the parish’s tradition of service to the poor.
“None of this is work,” said Cooke, whose resume of community service is long. “It’s just plain fun.”
Cooke, however, noted that he was the only recipient of the Bill Waris Award, named for the late Jackson County Executive and parish pillar who was not only a powerful voice in politics for the poor but an example of service himself until his death in 2007.
At four previous parish Souper Bowls, held the evening before the National Football League’s big game, Bill Waris Awards have been presented to both adults and youth by Patty Waris, Bill’s wife of more than 40 years.
But this year, Cooke noted, there were no youth nominees, and that won’t do.
“We need to do something to get the youth involved,” he said.
Instrumental in bringing the Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentoring program to Kansas City, Cooke told a story of a 35-year-old white woman who was “Big Sister” to a 12-year-old black girl to underscore how volunteer service enriches both the giver and the recipient.
“I asked the girl if she liked her Big Sister,” Cooke recalled. “She said, ‘No, I love her.’
“Then I said to the young woman, ‘Thank you for being a Big Sister,’” he said.
“She said, ‘No, thank you. I can’t tell you how important this girl is to me,’” Cooke said.
Cooke was nominated for the Bill Waris Award by his daughter, Cathy, who told of her father’s legacy of service.
In addition to bringing Big Brothers/Big Sisters to Kansas City in 1966, Cooke also served on the board of Ozanam home, a residential treatment facility for youth with emotional, behavorial or learning disabilities. At Ozanam, he helped launch a Junior Auxiliary to support the home.
In addition, Cooke has:
Volunteered with Christmas in October that provides home repairs to the poor and elderly.
Served on the school boards of both Vistation and St. Thomas More parishes, as well as serving as president of the St. Thomas More PTA, and president of the St. Teresa’s Academy Father’s Club.
Served on the committee that brought the Irish Museum into being at Union Station.
Served during the Christmas season as a Salvation Army bell ringer.
Was one of the first people to sponsor a child in the Third World through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, and signed up each of his own children to sponsor a child.
Served for many years with the Southeast Serra Club, including terms as president.
Donated to numerous local, national and international charities including the American Red Cross, Llamba, and Amnesty International.
“His continued dedication for a more just and peaceful world is truly an inspiration,” Cathy Cooke said. “There is no doubt that our community is a better place to live today because of Jerry Cooke.”
Parish pastoral associate David Butel said that Cooke is an example of service to others that permeates St. Thomas More Parish.
Butel also recognized three parish leaders who died last year before they could be given the Bill Waris Award.
Tom Redmond served as executive director of Christmas in October for nearly a decade.
“It is impossible to know how many lives have been touched by this effort, both those of the homeowners and the volunteers,” Butel said.
Bob Miller led an effort to rebuild homes in El Salvador after a devastating earthquake in 2001. He and his wife Carol also launched an annual golf tournament for priests on both sides of the state line that ends in a gigantic barbecue party.
“As one priest said, ‘This is the best morale booster I’ve received in years,’” Butel said.
Frank Janner volunteered his accounting skills with Community LINC, a service to help homeless families move back into homes and a stable life.
“Anyone who knew Frank also came to realize his passion for the Catholic Church and justice,” Butel said.
Community LINC was also the featured charity for the parish’s Souper Bowl, with all proceeds from the simple soup and bread dinner going to the charity.
Laura Gray, executive director of Community LINC, thanked the parish for its annual $10,000 in direct support, and for the number of volunteers who come from St. Thomas More Parish.
“Our core program is transitional housing for homeless families,” she said.
“Our secret goal is the children. We want them never to be homeless again,” Gray said.
Gray said that Community LINC provides mentoring in life skills that help parents put their families back on their feet and into a home.
“Eighty percent of families who come to us do not become homeless again,” she said.