HARTINGTON — Chuck Cooper is a proud native of Hartington and is happy to get back to the area whenever he can.
He may be able to visit more often now that he’s retiring.
Effective at the end of the month, Cooper will end his 11-year career at Crane Trust.
Cooper graduated from Hartington High School in 1970, attended Wayne State College and left the area for Omaha in 1976. He still has family that he visits when he is in town - as recently as last month, where he enjoyed experiencing Big Hair Brewhaus and the Globe Chophouse.
The opportunity to work at Crane Trust appealed to his rural roots, he said. The organization works to protect and maintain the Whooping and Sandhill crane habitats along the Big Bend Region of the Platte River Valley. In 2013, the mission expanded to protecting bison.
“When I went out there it kind of reminded me of home. It’s the circle of life to go back around, back to the rural area where there’s lots of space and openness,” Cooper said.
Under Cooper’s leadership, the Crane Trust expanded its role in managing wildlife habitats in the central Platte River valley with more than 10,000 acres, hosted more than 50,000 visitors to its Nature & Visitor Center, and launched a virtual viewing of the annual Sandhill and Whooping crane migration this past year.
“Chuck’s leadership has been instrumental in creating one of the most incredible migration viewing experiences found anywhere in the world, and has become one of Nebraska’s largest tourist attractions,” said Brad Korell, Crane Trust’s Board Chairman. “We are grateful for the contributions Chuck has made to help preserve the great crane migration for generations to come.”
When he reflects back on his accomplishments at the Trust, he’s especially proud of the introduction of 150 bison into South Central Nebraska. Land management and research efforts have focused on the bison herd’s health and genetic diversity, its behavior and relationships, and the bison’s impact on their habitat.
Beyond his work at the Trust, Cooper looks back on a career that was both challenging and interesting.
One of the special memories he’ll take away is his role in bidding and successfully winning the rights to host the Special Olympics 2010 USA National Games in Lincoln.
It was the largest sporting event in the United States that year - housing, feeding and entertaining more than 5,000 athletes, coaches and officials, and serving 125,000 meals in six days of competition.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium, Bob Devaney Sports Center and all of the dorms were rented for those six days with a price tag of $1. million.
“That’s a good piece of trivia. I’m not sure what it would be now, 11 years later,” Cooper said with a smile.
He’s content with his decision to retire but knows he won’t be able to sit idle.
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