ATASCADERO — A celebration of life service was held on Tuesday, Aug, 7 for Atascadero community leader Wayne Everett Cooper.
Attendance for the service outstripped capacity at two planned venues, filling the hall at the Colony Park Community Center to capacity at just under 500 for a barbecue lunch following the words of Pastor Steve Shively and reflections from family and friends.
Cooper died on Wednesday, Aug. 1 following an Atascadero Greyhound Foundation All Comers Track Meet. With the death shocking in its quickness, friends and associates on the boards of the non-profit Greyhound Foundation and the Lighthouse Foundation said his final acts, simply helping move tables and chairs at the event, were emblematic of the way he lived a full life serving others.
Born in San Luis Obispo on Dec. 8 1944, Cooper grew up in Carissa Plains and lived in the dorms while attending Atascadero High School, forming a lifelong association with the school and youth athletics. While earning 10 varsity letters, an engineering degree, and accolades over four decades of community work, it was the building of a family which earned him the moniker Papa, and for which he was most proud.
Survived by his wife of 51 years, Diana, four children and 16 grandchildren, Cooper’s life could not be summarized on the printed page, said Donn Clickard, who spent several days trying in preparation for the eulogy.
“No one else cared for and served the [Atascadero] community as much as he did,” said Clickard, who counted Cooper as a best friend since 1970. “If what people remember about him is a smile that’s fine but there was so much more....substance behind him. He was extraordinary. Not superfluous, good at listening, but when he had something to say it was valuable.”
Before starting his own business, Wayne Cooper Ag Services, then a career with the utility Pacific, Gas and Electric, Cooper was a farmer, working with his older brother Jon.
As Pastor Shiveley highlighted in reading a biography printed in the remembrance service program, it was after moving his family to “town” that Cooper fully immersed himself in a long list of activities that kept him a constant presence in the life of the city.
He was a founding member of the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation, to fund activities of the Atascadero High School Athletics program, and through that the Lighthouse Foundation, tackling substance abuse regionally, primarily in youth.
He was a member and president of the Atascadero Unified School Board, on the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commision and served with the Farm Bureau, Atascadero Chamber of Commerce, Ag Tour and Ag in the Classroom. He was also active in the Atascadero Elks Club and supported the local 4-H and FFA programs.
Clickard noted that while Cooper was recognized in 2012 as Atascadero’s Citizen of the Year, it was an award he could have collected many times, “including this year,” with his volunteer spirit going well beyond donations or lip service.
“Lighthouse became a national example with his leadership,” said Clickhard, exemplifying “values of hard work and respect. When he did something, he was there from the planning, the organization, [through] the event, to the putting away tables and chairs.”
As one of Cooper’s grandsons, Creston, struggled with the weight of the moment in telling an old parable, those attending the remembrance service took his meaning well ahead of the final line. It was he said, the lesson his grandfather taught so many by example.
“As a man is walking along a beach with hundreds of starfish, he sees a boy throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The man asks the boy what he was doing, ‘There are so many. You can’t possibly save them all.’
The boy picks up another and throws it back to the water. ‘I made a difference to that one,’ he says.”
The family has asked that donations be made to the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation or the Lighthouse Foundation in lieu of other consideration.