Getting to Know You: Catherine Cooper

A column dedicated to the folks in the pews.

Written by Dale Buchanan

Catherine is a wife, a mother, a teacher, and one of those people from the Big Red pews that everyone should be acquainted with. Born in Salisbury, Maryland, her journey from that birth on the opposite coast to Fresno is a fascinating tale in and of itself.

One little aside seems appropriate at this time. In our interview Catherine was more than generous with her time and freely answered my questions—even expanding the answers giving me a wealth of background and anecdotes. There is so much to choose from as I try to convey the impressions gleaned from this charming, dedicated teacher of children.

Catherine was an only child. Her father went to work one morning when she was eleven months old and never returned. This event which appears on the surface as tragic was the impetus for forging a loving and nurturing bond between mother and daughter. In addition to her mother, Catherine’s Uncle John provided a stabilizing father figure during her childhood and youth.

I asked Catherine to tell me a bit about her mom:  “Mother’s people were farmers and she was the first in the family to graduate from college. She was a special education teacher for forty years. My mom is smart, witty, humorous, and independent. She still lives in New Jersey and visits us here in Fresno.”

Now I must narrow my focus to what I see as the defining characteristics of today’s pew person. While pursuing her undergraduate degree at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, this determined young woman taught youth ministry and music programs at camp meetings in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, in the summers. During the school year she cleaned houses, walked dogs, sat cats, clerked in a candle shop, and served as a nanny among other things to earn money to come to the West Coast and attend the University of Southern California for graduate work.

With her mother’s help she packed her little car and headed west exhibiting the same courage and determination already described. She succeeded in securing lodging and part-time work, and she was on her way. While attending USC, Catherine’s passion for music and an urgent compulsion to teach led her to South Central Los Angeles where she taught volunteers to teach music—something Catherine decribes as a part-time job and a life experience.

It was here at USC where Catherine met Kevin who was to become her husband and father of her children. In 2002 Kevin was offered a position at Fresno City College and Big Red inherited this young couple. They picked the Big Red Church specifically to expose their children to the diversity they would experience in this church family. We as a church are the beneficiaries of their choice.

From the vision of this amazing woman came something called Kidmunity. Like so many ministries at Big Red, this summer camp is the vision of one and the successful labor of a multitude. For five days every summer a truly unique community outreach turns Big Red into a place of joy, learning, and hope as children from our diverse neighborhood are taught music fundamentals. On the last day of camp this June, Gayle convinced me to attend the gala windup of this wonderful week which included to the children’s delight water balloon fights and relay races. A concert for family and friends demonstrating their week’s learning was on Saturday. I went more than a little skeptical, but lo and behold, the concert was actually very good and a delightful experience.

Thank you, Catherine and all your dedicated fellow visionaries, for ministering to the children of our community through music and giving them through your service a glimpse of God’s love.

Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.

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