Mr. Cooper

E. J. Cooper

February 13, 1897 - June 30, 1992


E. J. Cooper Senior High School was named after the long-time superintendent of Robbinsdale Schools.  Mr. Cooper came to the District in 1930 as Robbinsdale’s first Superintendent of Schools. He retired on June 30, 1965; he served as superintendent for 35 years. 


Edwin Jonas Cooper was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts on February 13, 1897.  He was named after two uncles; Edwin and Jonas.  E. J.’s mother called him “Ned”.  She didn’t want him to have the nickname “Eddie”, apparently “Eddie” was not a dignified nick name.  E. J. thought his name was “Ned” until the time he was 9 or 10.  Throughout his life, Mr. Cooper was known as “Ned” by most of his friends. 

Mr. Cooper’s father was a college professor.  Dr. Cooper was teaching at a small, private college in Massachusetts when he received an offer from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.  Dr. Cooper accepted the offer and in 1899, the Coopers moved their young family to Minnesota.

It was a family of five boys and a girl.  Each child had chores.  Once E. J. was old enough, he took care of the chickens.  “I had to see that they were feed and watered, and get the eggs in the afternoon,” said Mr.Cooper. 

In 1907, Dr. Cooper, by then a well-known English professor, received an offer to become president of Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.  The family made the move when E. J. was 10 years old.  Fayette, Iowa is south of Decorah.  Decorah is Winneshiek County.  Winneshiek and Fayette County share a boarder. 

E. J. recalled being a bright youngster.  “I was smart enough that I didn’t take a lot of books home.  In my senior year, I was announced the smartest kid in my class.  It was a smaller school, only about 30 kids in the entire school, but the best of thirty, you’re still pretty good.”  Mr. Cooper graduated first in his class. 

E. J’s friendliness and wit made him a popular classmate.  His outgoing personality, however, wasn’t always kept in check during class and recitations.  Mr. Cooper recalled that in retrospect, he was the leader of the students. Unfortunately, he but didn’t always behave; he frequently disrupted class.  And as a result was reprimanded.  Mr. Cooper said that while he was a senior, “I sat, quite often, with the first or second grade. That was discipline, you know.” While in high school, E. J. played football, basketball and baseball.  (This information was taken for the September 25, 1992 Edition of The Quill.)

The Cooper family spent their summers in Cable, WI at their cottage.  Mr. Cooper uses the term “summer home”.  During his teenage years, E. J. had a summer job working on the railroad. “I’d go over at seven in the morning and come back at six at night, one hour off at noon, and get one dollar and one-half a day.  Pulling out ties, throwing them away, putting in new ones. We had 3,000 ties on a seven-mile stretch. 

In 1916, Dr. Cooper was hired as Executive Secretary of a “national college and university association in Chicago.”  That organization was probably the newly established “Association of American Colleges.”  The AAC was founded in Chicago in 1915.  In 1948 AAC headquarters were moved to Washington, DC. In 1995 the AAC changed its name to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.  

E. J., the newly minted high school graduate moved with his parents to Chicago.  He enrolled in the University of Illinois.  While there, E. J. received an award for being the best marksman at the university.  He was also a member of the water polo team and coached the swim team.  Said E. J. of this choice, “I had played football, basketball and baseball at Fayette High, but figured the competition at Illinois was a bit above me, so I competed on the swimming and water polo teams."  

The United States entered WWI, the Great War, on April 6, 1917.

“I got in one year at Illinois and then I enlisted in the Army,” said E. J.  Mr. Cooper was in the US Army Signal Corps, Aeronautical Division.  He took pre-flight training at the University of Illinois, was sent to Kelly Field where he earned his wings, and then shipped out to France. 

E. J. was one of 50 pursuit pilots in the newly-named US Army Air Corps.  He flew Liberators and some French and English planes….  According to Cooper, “None of them very good.”  “That place they sent us to in France…… it was just like a monastery.   We were supposed to be getting advanced training, and I guess we did… and then (we were to) go into combat. But … the war ended, and that was that.” 

E. J. returned to the United States. He disembarked in New York, traveled by train to Chicago and married Lavon Hartman his childhood sweetheart from Fayette, Iowa.  He then made his way to Fort Funston in Kansas to be honorably discharged. 

Ranch Hand: After his discharge, EJ and Lavon set out for Colorado.  EJ got a job as a ranch hand on a cattle ranch near Walden, CO. “But, Lavon couldn’t stand the high altitude” Mr. Cooper recalled.  “So, I heard about this teaching job at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  It involved teaching English and History, and being the athletic director and coach.”  

Teacher/Coach/Athletic Director: Mr. Cooper said that he haggled about the salary a little, the school district met his salary requirements and the Cooper moved to Fort Sumner.  They stayed there for two years. Mr. Cooper does not have a B.A. at this point.  He has earned one year of college credits at the University of Illinois. 

Back to Iowa: While in New Mexico, E. J. he was contacted by the Fayette School District.  He was offered the job as principal of the high school with the understanding that he would coach all the major sports.  Lavon and E. J. were happy to return to Fayette; Dr. Cooper was still president of Upper Iowa so E.J. parents were still in town and of course E. J. and Lavon had many friends in Fayette. 

Mr. Cooper stayed in Fayette High School for one year.  The next year be became superintendent of schools in Guttenberg, Iowa.  Guttenburg is in Clayton County, the county to the east of Fayette County.  (Mr. Cooper holds these jobs without a college degree.)

While serving as principal at Fayette High School and superintendent in the Guttenberg Schools, E.J. took classes at Upper Iowa University. He earned a B. A. degree in Education Administration. 

Mr. Cooper was superintendent of Guttenberg Schools for four years.  From there he moved onto the Superintendent position in Monona, Iowa.  Monona is in the far northern part of Clayton County. 

Family: The Cooper’s first of five children, Emma Jean, was born in 1921.  Emma died of a nutritional ailment at the age of one and a half years. 

The Coopers had four more children: Son Edwin, twins Joann and John and daughter Katherine. Kathrine is Kay Johnson; she would go on to become a member of the first RHS class to go all three years at the new Robbinsdale High School on Toledo Avenue.  Kay was a secretary Cooper from 1967 to 1982. 

Mr. Cooper started his job as Robbinsdale’s Superintendent of Schools in July of 1930.  At the time, Robbinsdale Public Schools had one building; the Regent Elementary School and two portable buildings.   These structures housed a staff of 34 teachers and 1,100 students in grades Kindergarten through ninth grades.  High School aged children in the area attended either Edison or North High Schools in Minneapolis. 

In December, 1935, a WPA grant from the Federal government in the amount of $175,000 enabled the building of Robbinsdale High School.  Total cost of the school was about $300,000.  Robbinsdale High School opened in 1936.  This was the first suburban high school built in the Minneapolis area.  Bissell and Blair were the architects.  The firm went on to design many Robbinsdale Schools. Milo Mielke was principal for Robbinsdale High School for 39 years, retiring in 1968. 

Life in Robbinsdale: EJ and Lavon settled into life in Robbinsdale. E. J. and Lavon lived in a big house on Lake Drive in Robbinsdale. Lavon was busy raising the four children. The Coopers were members of First Congregational Church in Robbinsdale

Mr.  Cooper set to work on a Master Degree. He earned a Masters of Arts Degree from the University of Minnesota. 

In 1937 Mr. Cooper was made commander of the Westphal Post 251 of the American Legion.  He was a member of the organization for 45 years.

EJ was a charter member of the Robbinsdale Lions Club, organized in 1939.

From 1947 -1955 EJ served as a member of the state board of control for the Minnesota State High School League.  He was president in 1954 – 55. 


Mr. Cooper would frequently visit the schools.  He smoked White Owl cigars. And, he smoked cigars in the building.  Teachers and staff could tell EJ was in their school by the whiff of the cigar smoke. 

The Robbinsdale School District grew rapidly following the end of WWII as the farm areas of Crystal and New Hope gave way to the suburbs.

Annexing districts: In 1945 a portion of the Golden Valley School District came with Oak Grove and Sunny Hallow.  1945: a third of Brooklyn Center joined Robbinsdale bringing in Twin Lake School.

In the early 1950s, families in the Medicine Lake area wanted to join the Robbinsdale School District.  Parents moving to the Glacier Lane area in Plymouth insisted that where they lived be declared within the Robbinsdale School District.  They parents didn’t want to send their children to the small, county school in …. Wayzata. 

Son John: Tragedy struck the Coopers in 1952.  They lost their son John in an air plane crash. John Watson Cooper, Joann’s twin, was the first RHS student to attend a service academy.  He graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1951.  The transferred to the Air Force and lost his life while flying. To honor their son’s memory, the Cooper raised funds to construct a Scout Camp.  EJ bought 80 acres of land along the Apple River in Wisconsin.  He and other Westphal Legionnaires then set about building a Boy Scout Camp.  The camp was dedicated in 1959 and named the Joh Cooper Memorial Scout Camp. 

Robbinsdale Independent School District 281

In 1957, District #24 became Robbinsdale District #281.

Robbinsdale district was the fourth largest school system in the state.

In addition to the annexed districts and schools, seven new elementary schools were built between 1948 and 1958, a time of tremendous growth with the onset of the “baby boom” generation.  

Another 10 elementary schools were built between 1959 and 1971, along with 3 new junior high schools and 2 new high schools.

At its peak, Dist. 281 was serving over 25,000 students and had

3 high schools Robbinsdale, Cooper and Armstrong,

4 junior high schools: Regent/Robbinsdale, Sandburg, Hosterman and Plymouth,

21 elementary schools: Oak Grove, Sunny Hollow, Twin Lake, Winnetka, Lee, Adair/Fair, Forest, Lincoln, Thora Thorson, Noble, Northport, Neill, Cavanagh, New Hope, Meadow Lake, Sonnesyn, Lakeview, Crystal Heights, Pilgrim Lane, Zachary Lane and Olson.  (original New Hope School was on 42nd Ave and Winnetka (where the Administration Building now stands) and the original Winnetka School was on Winnetka and Bass Lake Road. 

In 1960, the School board authorized the televised elementary school German program.  Dr. Hedi Oplsesh: the force behind language program in District 281.

The early 60s also brought about the establishment of a consultant program; it provided for full time district consultants in the areas of foreign language, mathematics, science and reading.

Publication of curriculum guides begun under the direction of an editor. 

And in 1961, computerization was introduced into the district when IBM computers were installed for accounting, payroll and attendance

Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers - It was in the early 60s the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers hit its stride.  The union had been a long time in the making.  Mr. Cooper, like many superintendents of that time, did not negotiate with a teacher’s group.  There was no salary schedule.  Teachers had to negotiate their own contact with the superintendent. 

There was no collective bargaining; no benefits and the wages were low. In addition, there was no job security.  Contracts were written so that a woman teacher would stand to lose her job if she married or became pregnant. 

Elise Evans recalls her job interview with Mr. Cooper.  He first asked her, do you have a boyfriend? Response: Not at this time. Do you have a car?  Response: Yes, her first.

Do you have a fur coat?  Response: Well yes, it gets cold in Ely, one needs to own a fur coat. 

Ms. Evans said that Mr. Cooper continued with rants and nonsense.  She decided that he wasn’t interested in her talents and what she could share in the classroom. So, she thanked him and rose to leave. At which point Mr. Cooper yelled to Mr. Mielke in the next office, “Hire her, Milo!” 

Ms. Evans credits the union with allowing her to make a wage that kept her out of poverty and eventually being able to have a good retirement. 

But, the District was slow in recognizing the union.  In 1946 the first efforts were made to organize.  Teachers were in such fear of losing their jobs that they didn’t meet within the City of Robbinsdale for fear of being discovered. 

On Nov. 13, 1946 a Commission of Teachers appeared before the School Board of District 24 – the old number for Robbinsdale Area Schools.  They demanded a $400 annual salary increase.  As the negotiations proceeded there was a $50 difference between the two groups.  The teachers threatened to go on strike.  People thought it was risky and not worth the chance. Mr. Cooper finally agreed to the final offer put forth by the teachers. 

At a School Board meeting sometime in the 1950's a teacher, it might have been Irv Nerdahl, RHS teacher and coach, was speaking.   He said that “someday teachers will make $6,000 a year.”  At this point, a School Board member who had been dozing, popped open his eyes and challenged the teacher saying, “And what will the rest of the laborers have to say about that. “  Teachers were viewed as laborers, not skilled professionals.

By the 1960s, Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers was a model for other unions in the state.  Through its efforts, teachers in District 281 made wage comparable to wages paid in more affluent district such as Edina and Hopkins.  Robbinsdale School District was considered by many a good place to teach. 

But, there will still plenty of issues to resolve.  Women educators were paid $300 less a year than the male teachers were.  At a vote on a contract that had that difference, only three women stood to oppose the contract.  Yet, things eventually changed.  The Robbinsdale Schools District had one of the first contacts in the State that provided for a maternity leave that was longer than a year. 

Because so many of the teachers in the elementary grades were women, the changes to the Elementary School teachers’ contracts were slow in coming.

Elementary teachers didn’t have any prep time; teachers were expected to take their turned supervising recess as well as the lunchroom.   The contracts started to address these concerns and eventually non teachers were hired to take over these duties. 

Mr. Cooper was not what one would consider progressive in making advances in teachers’ pay, benefits and workload. 

E. J. Cooper Senior High School

1962: Designs for the new high school get underway. District 281 would become the first Minneapolis suburban district to open a second high school. Bloomington’s history; just like 281 only a year behind. Bloomington also eventually had 3 high schools and closed one.

Architects: Bissell, Blair and Green    The three partners were 20 years apart in age. Gene Green designed Cooper.  Mr. Green was interviewed in 2015 by a Quill reporter who was writing a story on Cooper's Golden Anniversary.  Mr. Green is 92 years old and lives in Chetek, WI.  

Mosaic – Two hawks in the foyer.  Remodel.

RHS students to CHS.  Boundaries changing.

Cooper opened on September 7, 1964.

Mascot: the Cooper’s Hawk.   Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium-sized hawk native to the North American continent and found from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico. As in many birds of prey, the male is smaller than the female. The birds found east of the Mississippi River tend to be larger on average than the birds found to the west. Other common names for the Cooper's hawk include: big blue darter, chicken hawk, flying cross, hen hawk, quail hawk, striker, and swift hawk. Wikipedia

Welcome week.

64-65: First trophy – debate.  State Wrestling Tourney – Cooper took State.   

Cooper Kindergarten: Held the first three years that Cooper was open; 64-65, 65-66 and 66-67.  The first year, 64-65: There were 13 Kindergarten teachers along with a Teaching Principal.  Each had a morning class and an afternoon class.  There were 850 Cooper Kindergarteners in 64-65.

Mr. Cooper retires on June 30, 1965.

Library 2000 books   400 books on Abraham Lincoln donated to Hennepin Co. Library System.   Spent time gardening, going to cabin in Cable, WI. 


Mr. Cooper at Cooper High School.

1964 – 1979.

The Class of 1965 interacted with Mr. Cooper due to him still being superintendent during academic year 64-65 and his namesake school being in its first year of existence. 

After his retirement, Mr. Cooper was the kindly, old man in a suit jacket who attended Pep Fests.  He wasn’t part of the activities. That all changed in February of 1980. 

Mr. Cooper’ Birthday. The Class of 1980 was organizing the 1980 Sno Fest.  Paraprofessional/hall monitor Deloris “Ma” Breher knew Mr. Cooper’s birthday was Feb. 13 and suggested that the Pep Council incorporate celebrating Mr. Cooper 83rd Birthday into the Snow Daze Pep Fest/

Class of 1980 raised money. Presented Mr. Cooper with his letter jacket. (See copy of the Feb. 29, 1980 Hawk’s Quill.)

Celebrating Mr. Cooper's birthday became an annual event. 

From the Hawk’s Quill, Feb. 29, 1980. 

“The idea first came about in a pep council meeting.” Said senior Wendy Anderson, pep council secretary. “We were trying to think of some activities to make Snow Daze really special this year. It was mentioned that Cooper’s birthday fell right in the middle of Snow Daze and from then on it just snowballed.”

Hawk’s Quill:  Deb Lund, pep club president, and Anderson were the students in charge of the birthday party/pep fest.  Both of them felt that this was one of the most important things they have done at Cooper.


The 1980’s

1982 – Robbinsdale High School graduates its last class.  

The debate of which high school to close.  Armstrong has the highest operating costs.   

Cooper puts together the Special Place study of the school.   

Cooper and Armstrong renamed. Current students don’t know why their school is called RCHS.    

Thesis paper on the closing of RHS.


1984 – Cooper turned 20 years.  Large celebration

Many teachers who opened the school were still there. A history is video taped. 


1985: Lavon died in Jan. 1985.  Kay died in March 1985.   


1988 - 1989: Cooper celebrates 25 years. 

Sept. 1988: Freshmen enter Cooper.   The Class of 92 – first class to attend Cooper four years.

1989 Talons: The Silver Anniverary Year. Mr. Cooper is one of the people on the cover.  



Class of 1992 at commencement.  Mr. Cooper said it would be the last time he spoke to a Cooper Class.

Mr. Cooper died on June 30, 1992 at the age of 95. 


Mr. Cooper’s quotes

“If I am remembered as an educator, I would like to be remembered as a supporter of the hard core academics – English, Social Studies, Science, Mathematics and Foreign Language, rather than the so-called frills of education."  

Mr. Cooper often quoted Lincoln when he gave speeches.

One of his favorite Lincoln quotes was published in the program for his memorial service arranged by the District.

 “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” 


50 Years – Significance of a Suburban high school turning 50

 Cooper’s Golden Anniversary Year: 2014 – 2015.

No one at the school in 2015 was there when it opened in 1964.

Some “institutional knowledge” is lost. Those at the school never had a connection to the school when it was new. 

 But, teachers, alumni, parents of alumni are around and remember.

Changes in society and our culture; fewer rituals than we had a couple generations ago.  Could high reunions be taking on greater significance because people crave ceremony/ritual/community and don’t have the in their lives?

Or is it just the Baby Boomers and their numbers wanting to reconnect because they are at a point in their lives when a person starts to look back.

~ The RCHS Alumni Association compiled these facts. 




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