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The Scarlet & Black

The True Grinn-alien: Ron Cooper

By Aaron Lapkin

If he isn’t telling you some crazy UFO story or about the legitimacy of Big Foot, you might find Ron Cooper, otherwise known as “Coop,” in the Bear gathering equipment for athletes in preparation for the next athletic event. At least, you should find him there; he’s been an equipment manager for 33 years at Grinnell.

Coop landed a spot at the College right after high school.

“When I applied for this job they asked me if I had any experience being a football manager,” he said.

Fortunately for Coop, he had been the manager of his high school team since he got hurt his sophomore year and could no longer play.


Photo by Tela Ebersole

“They asked me if I could fix a football helmet and I said ‘yeah, I fixed a lot of them’ and then I got the job,” he said.

But Coop wasn’t just interested in athletics when he started working for the school; the college allowed Coop to take classes, so he enrolled in art and anthropology courses for two years.

Unfortunately for Coop, the school never offered any classes covering his main interests: extra-terrestrial life. Coop claims he saw a UFO when he was thirteen years old and calls the incident a “close encounter of the second kind” in which he saw a light that looked like an “aluminous ball of plasma” over Arbor Lake. To this day, he still doesn’t know what exactly the light was. But Coop didn’t let his imagination answer the question. Since then, Coop has vigorously studied the topic. After reading thousands of books concerning extra-terrestrial life (he owns over 3,000), Coop knows enough information to write his own book concerning the subject.

While taking care of over 24 Grinnell athletic teams and studying about aliens keeps Coop busy, he also finds the time to pursue his other passion, music. On average, Coop sees 150 concerts a year. His max for a single year is 236. While Coop has seen everyone from the Grateful Dead (yes, Coop was a Deadhead—he’s seen Jerry Garcia shred the guitar with the band 37 times between 1978-1984) to Stevie Ray Vaughn, he doesn’t play an instrument himself.

“I don’t play any instruments, but I sing a little blues every once in a while,” Coop said.

Blues has been Coop’s favorite type of music since he saw Luther Allison play at the College when he was 17 years old.

Coop might not play any instruments, but that does not mean he hasn’t contributed to the Blues world. He is one of the founding members of the Central Iowa Blues Society and South Skunk Blues Society. In addition, he is a life-long member of the Mississippi Blues Society. Coop has known the members of his favorite blues band, Little Ed and the Blues Imperials, for 25 years and has even travelled with them when they toured in the Caribbean. Coop booked them here in Grinnell at the Elks Lodge on December 21.

“I could’ve spent the money at the Caribbean and travelled with Little Ed,” he said. “But instead I spent it so they could come here and everyone could enjoy their music.”

Ron Cooper has been the “mother,” as he jokes, of the athletic teams at Grinnell for 33 years and he loves every day of it. A lot of athletes ask him why he’s stayed here his whole life and not live somewhere else in the world. His response: “I never left Grinnell because the world comes here.” That is certainly true, and students are glad to have Coop as just one more addition to this school’s diversity. So, if you haven’t met the “crazy guy who works in the cage” as some may call him, I suggest you do; he might have a story or two or three to tell you.

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