He likes to fish. She likes to quilt. Both enjoy serving others while also serving the Lord.
In a nutshell, that sums up much of the still-active lives of Dan and Norma Cooley, who have lived in Luebbering southeast of St. Clair for 27 years and have enjoyed 53 years of marriage together.
In fact, when asked about their activities and lifestyle, the 72-year-old Norma simply said, “He fishes. I quilt. That’s about our life.”
“Yep,” added 75-year-old Dan.
Fishing and quilting may, indeed, be a focus point of the couple’s lifestyle, but there is more to it.
Norma quilts — and she quilts and quilts and quilts, “almost every day,” she said.
“I thoroughly enjoy it,” she said. “I can’t wait to finish one quilt so I can start on another.”
She creates and finishes quilts for just about anyone who asks, and many are sold as auction items at fundraisers.
Dan’s lifelong enthusiasm for fishing led to the beginning of the biannual Truth and the Outdoors event which is being planned for its third local run in March. Previous shows, which combine the love for the outdoors with the Christian message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, have taken place in 2009 and 2011.
“If God made anything more fun-loving than fishing, I don’t know what it would be,” Dan said. “I still fish as often as I can. I’d go every week if I could.”
He said a few years ago, he read something in a Baptist publication about an outdoors recreation event a church had sponsored.
“After I read the article, I showed it to my son, Dan,” said the elder Dan Cooley. “We talked about whether we could so something like that in this area. We talked to several people, and before we knew it, we were planning something. It became ‘Truth and the Outdoors.’”
The first event was March 27-28 at the Franklin County Baptist Association building between Union and St. Clair. Dan Cooley II and Rick Thomas were co-chairmen of it while Dan Sr. was the secretary. Mark Bay was the coordinator.
Thomas and Bay now are in charge of the event.
“Those two got involved, and it kept going and going and going,” Dan Sr. said. “In time, churches and a lot of people helped out.”
The second Truth and the Outdoors event, which took place in spring 2011 at St. Clair Senior and Junior High School, drew more than 10,000 visitors over three days. More are expected next year.
Dan Sr. said more than 100 decisions for Christ were made by people who attended each of the first two events.
“The whole idea is to win people over to the Lord while providing a enjoyable environment for people who like to hunt, fish and spend time outdoors,” Dan said.
The Cooleys still do some behind-the-scenes work for Truth and the Outdoors, and “we still pray for it often,” Dan said.
“It was my love for the outdoors that helped get it going,” Dan said. “But God gets the glory. The Lord did it, not Dan Cooley.
“But it’s been a thrill to be a part of it.”
Norma said she makes about 40 to 50 quilts annually and does finishing work for “maybe 100 others” every year. Many of the quilts she makes on her own are taken to craft shows where they are sold.
She uses six sewing machines.
“I consider it a business,” she said. “But I love it.”
Norma said a medical condition led to her taking up the craft.
“I had trouble with my nerves,” she said. “I was told by a doctor to quilt, so I did.”
That was more than four decades ago.
Individuals may request her to make a specific quilt that includes a specific theme, color or design. She displayed several examples, including lighthouses, flowers and animals.
“I’ll quilt anything I can within reason,” she said.
Prices vary by size, materials needed and time.
Together, the Cooleys are actively involved in their church, St. Clair Southern Baptist, as well as in the TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) organization. The duo help organize an area TOPS club that meets weekly at Bethel Church, located north of Highway 30 near Lonedell.
Norma remains the co-leader of the group while Dan is the treasurer.
According to its website, TOPS’s mission is to support members as they take off and keep off pounds sensibly. Clubs are located across the country.
Norma said through the organization, she lost 35 pounds and has kept it off for 20 years. Dan also lost weight by attending the meetings. Their youngest daughter, Mandi, lost 119 pounds through TOPS.
The Cooleys said they have 14 or 15 regulars who attend the meetings at Bethel.
As far as their church, Dan, an ordained minister, has been a trustee and tries to help whenever he can.
“I look at it this way,” he said. “If there is a need in the church, you don’t need a special calling. You just need to do it.”
Norma is the church’s librarian.
Both also are active in helping with missions work at St. Clair Southern, where they have been members for about 15 years.
And they take their faith very seriously.
“It’s all about serving the Lord,” Norma said.
Dan said he became a born-again Christian when he was 17 years old, and Norma said she made the same decision when she was 16.
“Most of our dating consisted of sitting in a park discussing Scripture,” Dan said. “We learned together that what God does, He does right.”
Both of them grew up in Eminence, the county seat of Shannon County. They both graduated from high school there.
“I hated him with a passion back then,” Norma said with a smile when describing her earlier high school days. “He aggravated everyone, particularly me.”
“I just liked to have fun,” Dan said, adding that sometimes it was at other people’s expense.
“For whatever reason, his mom thought I was the grandest thing in the world,” Norma said.
Through some finagling, after Dan had graduated from high school and was working in St. Louis, “we ended up going to a high school basketball game together in Eminence,” Norma said.
“He was the most polite young man I ever saw,” she said. “He definitely was not the same man I went to high school with.”
They dated for several months and were married in 1959.
In 1961, when Dan was in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in France performing military communications work. Norma accompanied him overseas about six months later.
“We had a ball,” Dan said. “We saw Europe from one end to the other.”
The couple has several items in their home to remind them of their time there.
When they returned to the United States, they settled in Fenton and resided there for 19 years until a flood wiped them out in 1982.
“We lost all our furniture and a lot of other things,” Norma said. “So, we decided to move somewhere where we never would get flooded again.”
That place was Luebbering.
“Probably one of the best things we ever did was move here,” Norma said.
The Cooleys oldest daughter, Kim Crecelius, already had graduated from high school before the family relocated to the area. Dan II and Mandi attended Lonedell School before graduating from St. Clair High School. The couple now has eight grandchildren.
“We have three great kids,” Dan said.
Dan was a construction superintendent who spent his last 25 years of work at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
“I went there to do a four-month job and came out 25 years later,” he said, adding that while employed there he had the “unique opportunity” of putting in the hospital’s first MRI, cardiac and heart/lung transplant units.
For about seven years when Dan II and Mandi were older, Norma worked in the Lonedell School in the kitchen and library.
“We’ve been blessed,” Dan said. “God has given us a great life together. We’re very thankful.”