DESTINY'S CALL BRINGS LIFE OF SERVICE
"From the cradle," Frank Cooke knew he was destined to serve.
And certainly the breadth and depth of this long-time La Grande man's work for the community and his church bears witness to that claim.
"Well, I've always been involved Â— done a lot of different things," he says.
Indeed. Frank Cooke's community service includes a stint on the city council, chairing the city planning commission and serving on the city budget commission. He was a driving force on the committee to garner support and later fund the building of Grande Ronde Hospital and has worked with Union County's mental health program. He is a past member of the Salvation Army board, was involved with the Blue Mountain Boy Scouts and numerous youth baseball programs. He has served as chairman of both the Union County Red Cross and United Way organizations.
For many that list would be legacy enough. But a deeply religious Frank Cooke sensed a higher purpose to his desire for giving back. He found the answer within his own church.
In mid-life, when many men would be slowing down to spend more time with a golf club or fishing pole in their hand, Frank took up the cross instead to enter the service of the Lord. In 1983 he became an ordained member of the clergy for the Episcopal Church.
Ministry started early
Frank began his service in the church as an acolyte. An acolyte is a lay person, often a child or a teenager, who performs minor duties during the worship service to assist the ministers. As an adult, Frank spent many years as a lay reader participating in parts of the actual service.
But it was Sandy Hampton, St. Peter's priest in the late 1970s, who first expressed the idea of a deaconite ordination to Frank.
"Sandy was a very good friend. He told me he believed I had a calling to enter the ministry," Frank says.
To be sponsored for postulancy, one must have not only the support of a clergyperson in charge of a congregation, but that of the elected leadership in the church.
Peggy Cooke, Frank's wife of 52 years, was not at all surprised at the confidence placed in her husband, just proud. She always knew Frank had a call for ministering, she says.
"But I don't really feel I could have done this ministry without a supporting spouse," Frank adds.
New journey in service
So Frank studied to become a postulant with the seminary-trained priests from Baker City and Ontario. He also enrolled at American Bible College and Seminary, graduating after two years.
His practicum internship was spent at then-Eastern Oregon Hospital in Pendleton. It was the greatest challenge of his ministry.
"I saw everything. Sometimes you struggle with God Â— wondering why He put you in a situation you don't feel you can handle, but you do," Frank says. "You work for God is what you do."
After completing his practicum, the chaplain at the time asked Frank to come on board as assistant chaplain. He served two years ministering to everyone from the inmates Â— including the criminally insane Â— and often to the overburdened staff.
"My deaconite ministry is and always has been one of service," he says.
In La Grande, he ministered in hospitals and nursing homes to anyone who needed him, from answering calls in the night to conducting Sunday services.
For many years, Frank says, the Alcoholics Anonymous used to meet in the basement of St. Peters.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been stopped to help in the middle of a session Â— some guy comes walking in drunk, his last hope in the storm the redeeming cross of Christ."
Serving the church
During his 20 years as deacon, there were four different times the Episcopalian congregation found themselves between priests. It was Frank who stepped in to do many of the duties Â—both preaching and
He was also assigned to St. Peter's as vocational deacon throughout the diocese Â— which includes parishes in Baker, Enterprise, Cove and La Grande.
"I am unusual in that having served under four bishops, I have conducted or participated in services in every parish in this diocese," Frank says.
For three years, he was elected to serve on the Eastern Oregon Diocese Council headquartered in The Dalles. The council is part of the broader governing body that oversees business and doctrinal issues for the church. The diocese territory is huge Â— reaching from Ontario across to Bend and Hood River down to Klamath Falls.
"There was a lot of time spent on the road," Frank says.
Last October, he officially retired from the ministry after facing a life- threatening illness. His recovery was long and slow.
"We almost lost him," says Peggy. "The whole thing took a lot out of him."
Frank is convinced, however, that God spared his life for His purpose.
"He still has work for me to do," he says. "He created me and saved me through his son Jesus Christ."
Â— Mardi Ford