ESCANABA - One of the Upper Peninsula's legendary athletic figures passed away recently, leaving a treasure trove of memories to the lives of people he touched.
Ronald (Bud) Cooper was 80 when he died after a long battle with cancer. He spent 30 years as athletic director at Lake Superior State University and is widely considered the father of sports at the Sault Ste. Marie school.
An athlete when the two-year school was known as Soo Tech, the Sault native served as director of athletics from 1957-86. He was also director of the Norris Center and department head for physical education.
He was the leader in bringing hockey to LSSU in 1966 and hired Ron Mason as the first coach. Mason went on to become hockey coach and athletic director at Michigan State University. Mason's successor at LSSU was Rick Comley, now MSU's hockey coach.
Cooper was also a key figure in forming the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and was its first president.
"He built the reputation for doing things the right way and winning while doing it," Mason told The Evening News. "If we hadn't won, I don't think we would have survived during the early stages."
Mason had four 20-win seasons at LSSU from 1966-73.
"I've never seen a guy who hated losing as much as him," said Mason, who has an NCAA-record 924 wins.
"He's more than just Bud Cooper. He's an institution with respect to what he's done for so many people and for Lake Superior. He did more with little than anyone I've ever known."
Comley told The Evening News he will always remember Cooper's guidance when he was an LSSU athlete and young coach. "His passion for Lake Superior and his dedication to its success left a great impression on me that I have carried forward to this day.
"Lake Superior and the Soo are better places because of Bud."
Cooper remained close to LSSU's teams and athletes right up to his death, and The Evening News noted his eyes sparkled when he had a chance to have pictures taken with the athletes.
Third-year LSSU men's basketball coach Steve Hettinga said "I can only imagine how people who knew him a lifetime and the community feel the loss.
"The spirit he had, even up to the last week I saw him, it was never about him, but something bigger than himself. He was always asking about us. ...Living up to his expectations is my lasting thought. He did things the right way when he was a coach and AD here, and I think that's why people liked him so much."
LSSU hockey coach Jim Roque was playing for the Lakers when Cooper retired. Cooper's grandsons now play for Roque.
"The vision he had to think it would be a really good thing to add hockey here was extraordinary," Roque said.
Cooper earned 10 letters at Sault High School and was all-state in football. In the Upper Peninsula North-South All-Star Game in Negaunee, he passed for three touchdowns and returned an interception 65 yards for a TD as the North won 25-6.
He was captain of the Soo Tech football and basketball teams before transferring to Central Michigan University. He played football, basketball and baseball at CMU, then coached at the high school level until returning to Soo Tech in 1954.
Cooper was 100-32 in six seasons as men's basketball coach for the Hornets/Lakers. He also coached tennis, golf and bowling.
He was a charter member of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame's executive council and was inducted into the UPSHF in 1981, along with former Escanaba High School coaches Jerry Cvengros, Rollie Dotsch and Dick Schram and Esky native Harry Monson. Cooper joined LSSU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.