Cooke Foundation donates $400,000

Generosity will speed up construction
of town auditorium
By Pat Wilson

The generosity of the William A. Cooke Foundation will ensure the prompt construction of a 212-seat state-of-the art theater/stage in the town of Louisa. The facility will be located in the rear section of former stone school on Fredericksburg Avenue, which is currently undergoing renovation to house the town offices and meeting rooms.

Pam Stone, chairman, accepts a pledge of $400,000 from Wallace Tingler, president of the William A. Cooke Foundation.

On behalf of the Louisa Downtown Development Corporation, Pam Stone, chairman, accepts a pledge of $400,000 from Wallace Tingler, chairman of the board and president of the William A. Cooke Foundation. The donation will be used to construct the auditorium as part of the Community Arts Center to be located in the former Fredericksburg Avenue school, which is being restored to house town of Louisa offices and meeting rooms. Members of the Cooke Foundation attending the ceremony last Thursday were (l-r) C. Champion Bowles, Randall Tingler, Becky Cavanaugh, Linda Parker and Dean Agee. Photo by Megan Smiley

The foundation’s board pledged $400,000 to the Louisa Downtown Development Corporation, a non-profit group organized to fund-raise and oversee the Community Arts Center. The donation was acknowledged at ceremonies on Thursday, Feb. 23 at the school.

“It is great to be able to look back and preserve a piece of history, and, at the same time, build something wonderful and useful for the future,” said Wallace Tingler, chairman of the board and president of the foundation.

Although a final decision has not been made, the tentative name of the Haley/Cooke Auditorium is being considered. Littleberry James Haley, a local preacher and Louisa County’s first superintendent of schools, was Cooke’s grandfather.

“We thank the development corporation, as well as the Louisa Town Council, for their hard work and dedication in making this a reality,” said Tingler. “We are glad to participate.”

With the donation, the renovation of the auditorium can now be slated for completion next spring.

“The generosity of the foundation will permit us to move forward with Loudin Building Systems [the contractor] on that phase,” said Pam Stone, LDDC chairman. “This is a unique opportunity to bring an additional quality of life to our community that has previously been lacking.”

Mayor Charles Rosson noted the financial advantage of being able to complete the restoration of the entire former school almost simultaneously. Prior to the donation, the project had been divided into phases.

“Being able to move right from the work on the town hall to the auditorium renovations will be a cost savings,” he said.

The theater/stage will have both live and film capabilities. Concerts, lectures and plays are among the events planned for the stage area. Professional lighting and sound systems will ensure positive experiences for those performing or watching at the venue.

Projection capabilities will permit the showing of films, and an evening at the movies could soon be an option for community entertainment and fund-raising by local organizations.

A 50-foot extension behind the stage will open space for dressing rooms and prop storage.

“We hope to have the auditorium completed to participate in [the publicity and activities for] the Jamestown 2007 celebration,” said Stone.

This is the second donation by the Cooke Foundation. Last March, with a pledge of $40,000, the directors fund the renovation and furnishing of the executive conference room in the future town hall.

The Cooke Foundation

Founded in 2002 to honor the memory of William A. and Alma Cooke, the non-profit foundation is under the leadership of a nine-member board.

“The mission of the foundation is to support the residents of Louisa County through scholarships and grants for local purposes. This facility is a great opportunity for the town of Louisa to hold cultural activities for county residents,” said Tingler.

The charitable foundation is noted for its support of the local community. The directors have awarded close to $700,000 in scholarships to students in Louisa and Orange counties.

Also, the foundation has provided grants in excess of $700,000 to local organizations such as the Louisa Little League, The Montpelier Foundation, the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center, the town of Gordonsville and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

The foundation’s board and a volunteer staff administer the grants and scholarships.

In addition to Tingler, his son, Randy, and longtime employees, Becky Cavanaugh, Linda Parker and Patricia Anderson, serve on the board.

Community members, C. Champion Bowles, a retired attorney, and Dean Agee, a former clerk of the court, are also foundation directors, as are Dr. David G. Melton, superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools and Dr. William Crawford, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools.

Littleberry James Haley

Born in 1832, Haley was adopted by his uncle, Littleberry W. Allen, as a teenager following the death of his parents. Allen was a well-known Baptist preacher living in Caroline County.

Haley graduated with a bachelor of arts, first honors, from Richmond College, now the University of Richmond, in 1854. Five decades later, he would be recognized by the institution with an honorary doctor of divinity degree.

After being ordained in 1856, Haley became pastor of Elk Creek Baptist Church, a position he held for nearly 50 years, along with assisting other area congregations. At different times, the preacher held the position of clerk with the Goshen Association or the General Association of Virginia.

Haley held the position of the county’s superintendent of schools for 14 years. The original high school, located on Rt. 208 [Elm Avenue] behind the courthouse, was later named in his honor.

Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1905, Haley served for numerous years locally on the Bank of Louisa board of directors, as well. Haley and his wife, Mary R. Long of Spotsylvania, had six children, including Cooke’s mother, Nannie Rosa Haley.

Haley died in 1917, just over two weeks after the death of his wife of 60 years. In his obituary, Haley was described as a man of “symmetrical physique … cheerful temperament … gracious manners and versatile.”

Haley’s portrait was presented to the Louisa County Historical Society in 1987 and hangs in the Louisa Circuit Courtroom.

William A. Cooke

Born on a Buckner area farm in 1903, Cooke was the youngest of 12 children born to Dr. George Harris Cooke, a county dentist, and Nannie Rosa Haley.

Educated in county schools, Cooke studied law through a correspondence course while recuperating from tuberculosis at a sanitarium. He passed the bar on his first attempt in 1924, at 21, the minimum age of eligibility.

Cooke opened his first law office on Main Street in the town of Louisa the following year, and then added a second practice in Madison County, along with serving as a substitute general district court judge for 58 years.

The attorney served two terms as mayor for the town in the 1940s, and was a member of the Louisa Fire Department for over 70 years, where he helped organize the Louisa Firemen’s Fair.

A lifetime member of Little River Baptist Church, Cooke was also an associate member of the Louisa United Methodist Church, where he taught the men’s Bible class. At varying times, Cooke held the position of worshipful master at both the Murray Masonic Lodge in Fredericks Hall and the Day Lodge AF & AM in Louisa.

Cooke was also a charter member of both the Louisa County Lions and Ruritan clubs, with at least three decades of perfect attendance in both organizations.

During the Great Depression, when land was selling at reduced prices and on easy payment terms, Cooke began what grew into a successful real estate business.

Prior to his death, Cooke supported several projects.

Piedmont Virginia Community College acknowledged Cooke’s generosity to its endowment campaign by naming the school’s computer lab in his honor.

In memory of his wife, who died in 1997, Cooke made a sizeable contribution to the construction of the Louisa Public Library near Mineral.

The foundation was established after his death in 2001.

“During his 97 years, Cooke believed in honesty, integrity and fairness. Both he and his wife, Alma, dedicated their lives to helping others and by the foundation, they continue to fulfill those aspirations,” states the foundation’s webpage.

Community Support

The LDDC is still seeking tax deductible donations from corporations, businesses, foundations and individuals to provide a catering kitchen adjacent to the gallery, supply art classrooms planned for the second floor over the town hall offices, and purchase auditorium seats, as well as audio and visual equipment for the theater.

Last December, John J. Purcell and Harold Purcell pledged funds, earmarked for a gallery/lobby, in honor of their parents.

“The leadership and generosity of the Cooke Foundation and the Purcells have allowed us to move forward,” said Stone.

Other donations received by the LDDC over the past three years will allow partial furnishing of the meeting and conference rooms in conjunction with the town hall. Art classrooms, planned for the second floor, still need sponsorship, and individuals can purchase seats in the auditorium.

In addition, preliminary plans for a park, on the 12.4 acres adjacent to the town hall, have been drawn. Contributions are needed for the installation of playground and other recreational equipment, once the school renovation project is completed.

“We need the community to step up and help us with raising the final funds with large and small amounts,” said Stone. “We hope individuals and businesses will pledge.”

The LDDC is also pursuing grant money and historic tax credits.

Louisa Downtown Development Corporation

A 14-member board has spent two years visiting similar facilities and talking with experts in the field of theater arts. Their input, as well as design by architects and engineers, will focus on providing a modern yet audience-friendly facility. The total cost for the auditorium will only be determined after plans are finalized.

In addition to fund-raising efforts, the directors have explored guidelines and rental fees with the goal of making the arts center self-sufficient. The board chairman views the venue as adding to the economy of the town.

“Other locales have found that businesses benefit as people attend the cultural and educational events offered by an arts center,” said Stone.

Commemorative plaques and naming opportunities will acknowledge substantial monetary gifts.

For more information or to assist with the development of the center, visit the website, or contact Stone at (540) 967-2582. Donations can be mailed to Louisa Arts Center, P. O. Box 2119, Louisa, VA 23093.