Rita Bezdicek presented Kiwanis Citizen of the Year Jim Cooper his award during the Nov. 9 reception. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Rita Bezdicek presented Kiwanis Citizen of the Year Jim Cooper his award during the Nov. 9 reception. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

The Spring Valley Kiwanis, along with many members of the community, came together on Sunday, Nov. 9, to honor this year’s recipient of the Citizen of the Year award, Jim Cooper.

Speakers touched on the profound effect the former Spring Valley ambulance director has had on them and the community during the 26 years he and his wife, Judy, have been Spring Valley residents.

Kiwanis President Brenda Stier began the parade of speakers, “Jim, I want to say you have a lot of family and friends and fellow coworkers that felt you were most deserving of being this year’s Citizen of the Year. On behalf of the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club I want to congratulate you and thank you for all you have done for the community.”

Mayor Jim Struzyk followed, telling the crowd, “He has built this ambulance service up from almost nothing to a great service in southeast Minnesota. Throughout the years, Jim has done more for the city behind the scenes than anybody knows. He was always there.”

The first of the many EMTs who spoke in honor of Cooper was Jim McCabe. The emotional speeches told of sacrifice, strength and showed the true family spirit that encompasses the Spring Valley Area Ambulance Service.

“Thank you to Jim Cooper for his 40 hours each week as the ambulance director. And thank you also for the extra 30 or 40 hours each week you volunteered to make this community a better place to live,” McCabe expressed. “Thank God for Judy Cooper for putting up with him and putting up with that pager. Thank you for pushing this group of white shirts to be the best that we can be. We’re trained better than any ambulance service, I think, could be.”

“We always knew Coop’s office door and home would always be open beyond the 9 to 5 office hours, being available to handle those tough calls, offering support and friendship,” Barb Keefe conveyed. “The sacrifices he has made for his family to go on ambulance calls, missing his kids’ and grandkids’ school programs and holidays with his family in response to a call of the pager. For this, Cooper family, we thank you; you now have your husband, dad and grandpa back.”

“Cooper has been an asset of Spring Valley and the surrounding area for many years as past director of the ambulance and a resident of Spring Valley. Jim has given countless hours of his time and energy to support the city and the county, between teaching EMT classes, to teaching CPR to lifeguards, daycare providers and business people in town, and picking up call time for the ambulance service. Jim was at times working seven days a week and sometimes 24 hours a day. I never heard him complain nor feel sorry for himself. That was Jim and his dedication to helping others,” Ed McCloud revealed.

“First of all I’d like to thank the Kiwanis for talking the Minnesota Vikings into not having a game today, otherwise Coop might not be here,” Wes Peterson quipped. “Jim has been the silent hero while saving dozens of lives in this community. He also provided emotional support for those of us who needed it after bad calls. Jim and Judy were a godsend to this community. Spring Valley has a stellar ambulance service today because of Jim’s efforts and fortitude to accomplish what some thought impossible. His legacy will live on, the ambulance service he built will live on and the EMTs he trained will continue on saving lives and providing quality care to those in need.”

The Citizen of the Year plaque may have only Jim Cooper’s name on it, but no one forgot the solid strength sitting beside him.

“It takes an extremely understanding person to endure the trials and tribulations of being an ambulance director’s wife. Behind every good man is a dang good woman, we are also blessed to have Coop’s wife as a great EMT. She could save a life on Sunday and also arrange for a patient’s follow-up visit at OMC the following week,” Peterson teased as he announced his nomination of Judy Cooper for the Kiwanis Citizen of the Year 2015.

The EMTs presented Jim Cooper with a quilt made by Lucy Drinkall, which features signatures of past and present Spring Valley ambulance crewmembers, as well as crews from around the area that Cooper has trained through the years.

The emotional dial was turned up as the Coopers’ granddaughter, Josie ­­­­Hinze, took the microphone.

She spoke of cherished memories of her grandfather through the years watching television, golfing and of all of the encouragement he has given.

“Hearing him encourage me is part of the coal that fuels my fire. He has made a difference in many lives, including mine. I thank you Grandpa for all you have done; you are my hero.”

Kiwanis member and the emcee of the event, Rita Bezdicek, then awarded the Citizen of the Year plaque to Cooper to which he said, “This is indeed an honor. Thank you to all of you that spoke. It is very special to have you all here,” before passing the microphone to his wife, Judy, who read a speech he had prepared.

“We would like to thank the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club for bestowing this honor on Jim.  He is sure there are others who are far more deserving, but he is indeed grateful for being allowed into the ranks of a very distinguished and worthy members of this group.  Thank you, too, to those who nominated him for this honor.”

In her own words, Judy said, “He put his heart and soul into providing emergency care for the community. He couldn’t have done it without all of the volunteers in the ambulance service. And today I’d like to thank each and everyone of you, past and present, for your compassionate.”

Clearly, Cooper has and will continue to touch lives throughout the community.

As Peterson said during his speech, “A special person came to town 26 years ago and saw things as they could be. He never asked what Spring Valley could do for him, but what he could do for us.”