The 1940s was a transformative decade for the Cooper Foundation: founder Joseph H. Cooper died, grants increased six-fold, and the trustees got into and out of the purebred Holstein business.
In its first years, the Cooper Foundation gave $31,414 in grants. In the ‘40s that number topped $500,000. A large share of that amount was a $100,000 grant to the University of Nebraska to purchase purebred Holstein cattle from Cooper’s estate.
The story begins in Baltimore at the famous Dunloggin Dispersal Sale. Cooper was there along with his son, Joe W. Cooper, his veterinarian George L. Stringham, and H.P. “High Pockets” Davis, head of the Dairy Department at the University of Nebraska.
Some time earlier, at Cooper’s request, Davis had supplied the pedigrees of several Guernsey bulls, including one in Baltimore. When Cooper asked Davis to meet him at Pennsylvania Station in New York, he assumed it was to catch a train to look at that Guernsey bull. Instead, at Cooper’s insistence, they traveled to the Dunloggin Dispersal. Cooper instructed Davis, “You and Dr. Stringham look over the catalog and pick out some animals. I want to buy some.” And so they did: 18 head for $51,900. The next day, the board of the Cooper Foundation loaned Cooper almost that exact amount for the purchase of the cows. Cooper bought an additional group of animals from Winterthur Farms, another fine breeder of Holsteins. At its October 1943 meeting the trustees increased he loan secured by a chattel mortgage on the cows.
That was the beginning of Joe Cooper’s purebred Holstein herd, which he located on his farm in Verbank, New York. He lived in Verbank when not at his apartment at the Essex House in New York City or on the road checking his theatres in Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Enter Chris Sanders. He earned his bachelors of science at the University of Nebraska in 1938 and worked at the Dairy Department until World War II took precedence. He enlisted in the Field Artillery in the South Pacific, was a prisoner of war and was awarded two purple hearts.
Cooper, having met Sanders in Lincoln, invited him to visit Verbank and look over his dairy operation. Sanders and his wife, Bonnie, did so on the morning of March 20, 1946. While waiting for Cooper’s chauffeur pick them up, they learned that he had died in the night.
Cooper’s death fundamentally restructured the mandate of the Cooper Foundation. Until that time, the trustees’ primary responsibility was administering grants. After Cooper’s death, they assumed responsibility for the theatre business and for settling Cooper’s estate, a process that would last for some years.
Sanders moved to Verbank to manage Cooper’s herd prior to the dispersal sale. Thirteen of the 18 head of cattle purchased just three years before at Dunloggin were up for sale. According to Davis, those cattle were among the best Holstein bloodlines in the country and the sale results substantiated that judgement. Cried by well-known auctioneer Austin Backus, the Cooper Dispersal sale set a national record for the breed of $216,025. The Cooper Foundation bought 25 head for a total of $85,550 and had the cows shipped to the University of Nebraska Dairy Department. After the dispersal sale, Sanders joined the Cooper Foundation as its Agricultural Representative, located at the University to develop Nebraska’s dairy industry.