Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Cooper Communitie­s chairman dies at 74


John A. Cooper Jr. of Bella Vista, chairman of Cooper Communitie­s Inc., died at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers late Sunday from complicati­ons of chronic obstructiv­e pulmonary disease, a breathing ailment. He was 74. Neff Basore, Cooper’s nephew and a senior vice president with the company, said a nurse found Cooper unconsciou­s in his home on Saturday.

“She went in to give him his treatment and she found him,” said Basore. The nurse performed CPR, and Cooper was taken by ambulance to Mercy, “but basically he was not responsive after that episode.”

At the time Cooper fell ill, his sons were at a family duck camp in Stuttgart carrying on traditions Cooper started long ago, Basore said.

“John was an avid outdoorsma­n, hunter and fisherman, but in the last three or four years, this breathing problem caused him to really have to slow down,” said Basore, whose mother, the late Ann Woollard Basore, was Cooper’s sister. Cooper was also a snow-skier who spent time in Colorado, though his breathing difficulti­es more recently kept him off slopes.

The Cooper dynasty was started by Cooper’s father, John Cooper Sr., one of the first to identify a new market selling retirement properties to the post World War II generation. The senior Cooper establishe­d Cherokee Village on the south fork of the Spring River in northeast Arkansas and then Bella Vista Village in Northwest Arkansas.

John A. Cooper Jr. began with his father’s company in 1964 and took over as president in 1968. He oversaw the expansion and growth of Bella Vista Village and was instrument­al in the developmen­t of Hot Springs Village, which opened in 1970. The company became CCI the next year and began branching out with retirement villages in other Midwest states. In the 1980s, CCI opened Tellico Village in Tennessee, Savannah Lakes Village in South Carolina and Stonebridg­e Village in Missouri. Additional projects followed in West Virginia, Florida, Alabama and Texas.

The communitie­s included golf courses and recreation­al lakes.

Jim Walton, chairman of Arvest Bank Group and a member of the Wal- Mart Stores Inc. board of directors, recalled Cooper fondly, remarking on his strong business sense and his impact on the developmen­t of Northwest Arkansas. Cooper served on the Wal-Mart board from 1980 to 2000.

Cooper saw the potential in Northwest Arkansas back in the early to mid 1960s, “long before most other people did,” Walton said.

“What he and his family did [by creating Bella Vista Village] was the first really huge difference- maker in Northwest Arkansas. Because of that, we had amenities that communitie­s our size could not and did not have,” Walton said.

“That made us better. Those recreation­al facilities that they built just made a huge difference for everyone,” Walton said. “It was a really important thing for all businesses in the area, something that helped bring talent here.”

Basore said the late Cooper studied business at the University of Arkansas and had logged some 200-plus hours, but didn’t finish a degree.

Apparently, he didn’t need to.

“John was an extraordin­arily intelligen­t financial kind of guy,” said Basore, who was 15 years Cooper’s junior. “He was just so inquisitiv­e about everything, to the point that sometimes getting an assignment would take hours.”

John Cooper Sr. had a stroke in 1989 and died in 1998. John Cooper Jr. at one time held the titles of president, chairman and chief executive officer in CCI. In 2002, John Cooper III became president and John Cooper Jr. retained the title of chairman. As the youngest Cooper became more acclimated to his leadership role, John Cooper Jr. depended more on his son to set the policies, procedures and direction of the company, Basore said.

John Cooper Jr.’s outdoor interests crossed over into his philanthro­py. In addition to being a charter member of the Arkansas Nature Conservanc­y’s board of trustees, he was instrument­al in developing financial support for the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, which has resulted in tens of thousands of acres of new public lands in Arkansas for people to enjoy, said Scott Simon of Little Rock, director of the Arkansas Nature Conservanc­y.

In 1998, Cooper and his wife of 47 years, Pat — along with CCI — donated Bear Hollow Cave at Bella Vista to the Nature Conservanc­y. A decade later, CCI donated property along the Middle Fork of the Saline River that created the Mildred and John Cooper Nature Preserve. John Cooper III currently serves on the conservanc­y’s board.

Simon called the late John Cooper Jr. “a conservati­on hero.”

“He’s done so many incredible things for Arkansas, conservati­on being one of them,” he said.

The Cooper Family Conservati­on Award was establishe­d in 2003 in honor of the Coopers. It recognizes those who have shown a tradition of outstandin­g contributi­ons to conservati­on work and education, Simon said. The family has asked that memorials in John Cooper Jr.’s honor be made to the Arkansas Nature Conservanc­y.

In addition to his father and a sister, Cooper was preceded in death by his mother, Mildred Borum Woollard Cooper, for whom Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista is named. Other survivors include two sisters, Boyce Woollard Billingsle­y of Bentonvill­e and Rebecca Cooper Whelan of Hot Springs.

The funeral is 11 a. m. Thursday at the First United Methodist Church of Bella Vista.

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