Long-time SASD educator’s love of teaching will live on at Brackett School

The Monroe County Historical Society recently dedicated a bench in front of the Brackett Valley School in memory of the late Joan Cook. Pictured, from left, is son Joe Cook, daughter-in-law Katie Cook, grandsons Grayson and Finley Cook and husband Jim Cook. Herald photo by Nicole Vik.

The Monroe County Historical Society (MCHS) recently dedicated an iron bench in memory of the late Joan Cook, who devoted her life to educating others as a teacher within the Sparta Area School District and through various volunteer positions throughout Monroe County.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the spring of 1962 with a degree in Elementary Education, Cook’s first position as a teacher was at the West Primary School in Sparta.

As the district began consolidating during the early 1960’s, she was transferred to Lawrence-Lawson Elementary School where she continued teaching second graders until her retirement in 2001.

During her many decades of teaching, Cook took only one leave of absence during the 1968 school year to give birth to her son Joe.

Along with her love of teaching, Cook thoroughly enjoyed staying active in the community. She volunteered her time to help organize both the Warrens Cranberry Festival and Monroe County Fair craft and booth areas, she was the director of the children’s choir and the hand bell choir at Trinity Lutheran Church, and she also taught Sunday school.

Following her retirement in 2001, Cook proudly served as a member of the Sparta Board of Education for 15 years.

Through her involvement with the Monroe County Historical Society, Cook took the lead on preserving the Wegner Grotto north of Sparta, the Big Creek United Methodist Church salvation and she was instrumental in helping to save and rededicate the Brackett Valley School as an off-campus learning site.

The bench dedicated to Cook has been placed in front of the Brackett School as Cook was heavily involved when the building was purchased and moved from its original location to where it stands now on Feather Drive off of State Hwy 27 between Sparta and Cataract.

Cook oversaw the reintroduction of the furnishings inside the school. She also developed a learning program to be used at the Brackett School and taught the classes herself during the spring and fall months.

“Out of everything she was involved in, the one thing Joan enjoyed the most was this school,” said Jim Cook, her husband of 57 years.

The Monroe County Local History Room (MCLHR) has taken over programming at the Brackett School for the historical society since the passing of Cook in June of 2019.

“We started picking up the slack because we know county teachers love coming here and then coming to see us at the museum as part of it,” said MCLHR Director Jarod Roll. “We had to keep it going and no one from the historical society could really be Joan’s replacement because she lived it.”

Now, the MCHS pay for an intern to write curriculum and the MCLHR oversees the program. Participants in the program will be given the opportunity to experience what it was like to attend a one-room schoolhouse prior to World War I.

“They’ll experience that from when they arrive to what classes they were taught, multiple grades in one space with one teacher and what the structure of the day was like,” Roll said. “We assign what would have been a real farm kid to each student in the program and we have them do a map activity so they can see how far they would have had to walk to school every morning.”

Carolyn Habelman, president of the MCHS hopes the bench placed in Cook’s memory will serve to remind residents and visitors of Monroe County how important history is and how much of a pillar in the community Cook was.

“Not only was she a dedicated volunteer, but she was a very innovative and dedicated teacher,” Habelman said. “I’m sure Joan is looking down at us overjoyed that the program she started will continue.”

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