by Anna Ferraro
Have you ever been at a point in life when your schedule is so full, you wonder if you’re the busiest person in the world? And you’re just a little tired of work and the high-energy demands that rest on your shoulders each day? And so it was for me when this article assignment landed on my desk. Another interview. Another assignment to top off the three that were due last week. Another too-full workday. What I didn’t know when I dialed up my interviewee was that I would finish our conversation more refreshed and energized than when I began. How so? It had everything to do with what my interviewee shared with me during our conversation.
Randy Cooper was the name assigned to me for the interview. In Jacksonville, his name means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If you’re a student at Westfair, then Randy Cooper is your principal, your math class teacher, or your Bible study discussion guide – depending on the day. If you go to church at Manchester Baptist, then Randy Cooper is your church pianist, and coordinator of much that goes on in your church’s ministry. And if you’re a lover of exotic flavors of frozen yogurts with fantastic toppings, then Randy Cooper is the owner and general manager of your favorite place in town – The Frozen Penguin. That makes for a full day of work. And more.
Thus, in the midst of a busy workday on his end, he graciously gave me some of his time. He was a bit late in returning my call, only because he had come out of teaching Bible class at Westfair, and as usual, he had been heavily engrossed in the lesson, the kids, and the ministry opportunities at hand. As we talked, I learned that this was a common theme in his life.
When I asked him to tell me about his work there at Westfair, a place where he’s invested a lot of himself in 27 years of serving there, his first sentences were quick and decisive – “I love kids. And I love working with people. I love to see them grow.” He went on to say that the biggest reward he experiences in his job as principal is seeing the children of his former students. In addition, he stated that he thrills to see his former students enrolling their children in the school. He laughed when sharing the story of a grade-schooler, whose parents had attended Westfair, say to him one day, “You’re kind of like my grandpa.” Cooper chuckled, “I really liked that.”
During his almost three decades of service at Westfair Christian Academy, Cooper said, “I’ve been through a lot of stuff through the years at school – but I’ve never lost the love for teenagers and working with them.” With the incredible demands on his time and energy, I expected Cooper to make some comment that held a slight complaint about having no time for himself and how tired he must be. But I never heard it. Instead, he quietly said, “I have learned that when God puts you somewhere, it always works. You just follow Him, and He gives you the skills, the time, and the rest that you need.”
He shared that his life verse is Galatians 1:10 – “… If I were trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Cooper keeps that motto at the forefront of not just his bulletin board, but also his entire life, saying, “My whole goal here is to serve God. That will not always make people happy. I’m accountable to God first.” Cooper further stated with feeling, “My first love of anything after that is my family.” In addition to his biological family, Cooper said, “I strive for Westfair to be my family. We believe in caring for each other here.”
Through years of school and church ministry, Cooper also feels strongly about supporting pastors, and giving them special grace for the burdens they carry. He feels that God has put him in particular positions and opportunities to understand some of those burdens, so that he can better support and encourage the men in the pulpits.
And just in case church ministry, and full-time work as a principal didn’t fill his days enough, he opened a frozen yogurt shop almost seven years ago. I couldn’t resist asking, “and how does that fit in?” He laughed, “Yeah, what were we thinking….” The highly popular self-serve yogurt shop in Jacksonville’s downtown known as “The Frozen Penguin” is another example of Cooper and his wife’s love for honoring Christ, serving others, and reaping the reward of joy in return.
Cooper shares, “I give credit to God first for all this. And much credit goes to my wife. We do all this together.” As they work and serve through countless channels in the community, Cooper stated, “My wife keeps me on task. I’m more creative; she’s the nuts and bolts. God put us together, and we make a great team…. [Every day], God gives us strength, energy and direction.”
In closing, Cooper chuckled, and agreed to share with me some unique facts about him, saying, “I do puppets…. And I like cross-stitching, but I don’t have much time to do it.” Now puppets are fun, and it’s okay for a guy to enjoy needlework, but Cooper’s third idiosyncrasy made me laugh – “I don’t enjoy long walks on the beach. Don’t like the feeling of sand between my toes. I’m the nerd out there with shoes on.”
So, despite his puppets, his needlework, or the fact that he doesn’t have to squeeze long walks on the beach into his busy workday, Cooper somehow gets a lot done in the community without carrying stress about it. And when I hung up the phone after 30 minutes of chatting with him, I breathed easier too, as one of his early quotes kept ringing in my ears, “I have learned that when God puts you somewhere, it always works. You just follow Him, and He gives you the skills, the time, and the rest that you need.” For that reason, Cooper is on a mission – to honor Christ, and serve others. And as he does, he’s reaping the rewards of true joy.
Randy Cooper is a native of central Illinois where he has lived and worked his entire life. His wife Becky is the love of his life, and together, they serve the Lord with their three children while investing in the community of Jacksonville.