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Sundance Resident Marlene Cooper Remembered For Her Laugh, Style

The family of Marlene Cooper

More than 530,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. And that includes close to 700 Wyomingites. In our series to honor their lives, Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Lacey Petersen, the granddaughter of longtime Sundance resident Marlene Cooper. Cooper died from the coronavirus in November 2020. Petersen starts by remembering her 86-year-old grandmother's early years in Sundance.

Lacey Petersen: She pretty much lived there her whole life. She was born in Nebraska. But her family moved to a ranch outside of Sundance when she was very, very young. So she lived her whole life in Crook County, pretty much. Whenever I think of Devil's Tower, I think of my grandma because she was always just in that area.

She graduated from Sundance High School. She worked at Tri County Electric there, I think it's called Powder River now, but she was an office manager there. She would think she walked to work every day like in high heels. My grandma was very beautiful.

I think of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," and that's what the pictures that I see of her, that's what she looked like. So she did have the heels. She did have like the red lipstick and polka dots and all that kind of stuff. But then she always had really beautiful nails. Just long, beautiful nails. And she had a Black Hills gold ring for every single finger. And she could wear high heels and red lipstick until her 80s.

But she was a cowgirl at heart. Like she loved cowboy boots. She loved cowboy hats, and she had like fringe jackets. And I remember my mom sharing a picture of her when she was in high school. She had a fringe jacket. And she had one of those until the day she died.

Credit The family of Marlene Cooper

I would describe my grandma as just, like, a youthful spirit. She had a wonderful laugh. I will always remember her laugh. She loved to play games. We always were playing games with her, card games and dice games. And we would always have a family game of hearts or spades. Even in her late 70s, she could beat me at cribbage.

She had this little tiny camper, like a scamp camper. And it was the cutest little camper that she could pull with her baby blue Thunderbird car. She could pull it all the way to Sand Creek. And that's where she would stay and they would go camping every year for like a week or a couple weeks, and we would always go out there with her.

One story that people would always talk about is she had a really good friend. It was her neighbor in Sundance. They were really good friends. They were on inner tubes. And I guess it took them a really long time. They were in their 50s, but they floated in their inner tubes, all the way to Beulah from their campsite and there were some cocktails at the end right there was the Beulah Bar. So that was a great story I would hear about.

She retired from that job and she had a life partner. His name was Jim and she lived with him in Carlisle. They ran the Carlisle store together until Jim ended up passing away though. Then she continued to live by Devils Tower and in the Carlisle area until she really needed to go into long-term care.

I think that for some people that transition is really hard into long-term care. I think it was hard for her initially, but I really respect the long-term care center in Sundance. They do a really great job. I think they have people that really care about the residents there. She was able to reconnect with some of the people that she knew growing up and in high school that were in there. She liked engaging with the staff, they had little pranks they used to do on each other.

Credit The family of Marlene Cooper

My mom used to visit her probably a couple times. Every other day, she was up there a lot at the long-term care center. She couldn't go visit her anymore. So I think that that lack of visitation from people was really significant. It was really hard on her. I mean, I think it probably is for a lot of people in those centers. I think my mom was able to go outside and my grandma got to see her. But they couldn't be in the same room together. We zoomed with her a couple times during the pandemic two. She seemed like her old self, but it was hard on her.

She tested positive on a Wednesday and she passed away six days later. She died three days shy of her birthday.

I think that this, this death is just... it's definitely a different kind of death. So, we haven't been able to get together as a family and do some of the rituals that you do after somebody dies. I haven't been able to give my mom a hug. I haven't seen her in over a year. We haven't been able to eat casseroles or have a celebration of her life. So that's been really hard. It's been hard and in the grieving process can kind of get stuck, you're not able to really process it with the people that you love, who knew her.

Marlene Cooper died November 10, 2020 at 86 years old from COVID-19. She is survived by her three daughters and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.

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