St. Louis, MO – Civic and community leader Mrs. Thelma V. Cook succumbed to cancer Monday, May 16, 2016. She was 77.
Mrs. Cook spent decades in the St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan region and elsewhere advocating for broadening educational opportunities and increasing access to cultural institutions. She came to St. Louis from Jefferson City in the mid-1980s to administer the national minority and public affairs programs of The Seven-Up Co. She moved from there to Anheuser-Busch Cos. serving as executive assistant to the vice president of corporate affairs and director of corporate community relations.
Mrs. Cook continued her community service upon retirement, most recently serving as a member and immediate past chairman of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum Districts, and was the immediate past chairwoman of the board of regents for Harris-Stowe State University.
Mrs. Cook was an active member of Second Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Missouri, having accepted the Lord as her personal Savior at an early age. At Second Baptist she served as a co-director of their youth program and as a deaconess, prior to accepting a position in St. Louis, Missouri.
Mrs. Cook was one of two girls born to the late Leonard R. and Thelma V. Upperman family in Bronx, New York. She graduated from North Carolina Central University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology and a minor in Psychology; and earned a Master’s of Education degree in Guidance and Counseling from Lincoln University, Missouri. Harris-Stowe State University honored her in May 2015 with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Helping to develop youth was a priority for Mrs. Cook. It guided how she served her community. One of her first public efforts occurred while at Oklahoma State University in the 1960s. Her husband, Nathan, was pursuing an advanced degree, and she served as assistant dean of Student Affairs for the University. She found herself mentoring students, and ultimately, helped to mediate discussions between the student body and University administration during the turbulent civil rights demonstrations common to many college campuses during that time.
When her husband secured a teaching position at Lincoln University, Missouri, Mrs. Cook became a counselor in Lincoln’s Counseling and Guidance department, she then accepted positions including Director of Placement, and Director of University Relations and Development.
Among her achievements as Director of University Relations and Development, Mrs. Cook established relationships between the University and major corporations to provide Lincoln’s students with varied career opportunities.
Mrs. Cook’s ability to forge those connections drew interest from management of Seven-Up, which recruited her to St. Louis.
Mrs. Cook had a deep interest in performance and visual arts, having studied ballet and African dance as a child. She believed that children, regardless of background or family income, should be exposed to the arts. She sought to ensure that St. Louis area children would experience the arts in various forms and became a board member of the St. Louis Art Museum, Dance St. Louis and the Missouri Arts Council.
That concern for exposing area children to the arts can be traced to Mrs. Cook’s experience as a mother to her daughters, Carlene and Erika. Helping to provide others opportunities similar to those she was able to provide for her children was important to her, her family said.
Building community also became a priority. To further that effort, Mrs. Cook was selected for service and became a member of the board of Girls Inc. of St. Louis. She solicited former and new board members to join in helping the organization’s leadership expand its ability to provide a safe environment for girls to realize their full potential.
During her more than 30 years of serving the St. Louis community, Mrs. Cook served as a board member of Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club, the YWCA of St. Louis, Monsanto YMCA and Women of Achievement, and Bennett College for Women, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Her voluntary and professional involvements over the years are reflected in her having received two presidential commendations for services to youth from the Department of Education; the first Outstanding Female Executive of the Year from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated; 100 Best and Brightest Black Women for the Year-Ebony Magazine; Induction into the Hall of Fame from the Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs; Outstanding Service Award from the National Alliance of Business; and Women of Achievement of St. Louis, Missouri.
One of her other passions was animals. She fed this passion by becoming a board member of the Friends Council of the Humane Society, where she volunteered countless hours supporting the needs of sheltered animals in the St. Louis community.
At the time of her death, Mrs. Cook was Central Area representative of Links, Inc., a women’s national volunteer organization; local president of the social organization, the Smart Set; and a Diamond Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Mrs. Cook is survived by her husband, Nathan, of Jefferson City and St. Louis; daughters, Carlene Cook of St. Louis and Erika Aaron (Carl) of Atlanta; sister, Carolyn Clark (Edwin) of Lexington, KY.; grandsons, Carl Jr. and Christian Aaron of Atlanta; and several nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, great grandnephew, and grand dogs.
Funeral and memorial arrangements are being handled by the Dulle Trimble Funeral Home in Jefferson City, MO. More information about a date and time will be forthcoming. Also, a memorial service is planned later in St. Louis,Mo.