James Louis Cooper Sr.

December 24, 1934August 19, 2021

James Louis Cooper Sr., a professor emeritus of history at DePauw University and a widely recognized expert on the study and preservation of Indiana’s historic bridges, died on August 19, 2021. He was 86 years old. Son of James H. and Gladys Wambaugh Cooper, the Princeton, N.J. native moved to Greencastle in 1964 to join the faculty of DePauw University, where he served for more than three decades. At DePauw, Cooper was dedicated to faculty development, becoming the university’s academic dean in 1981 and then vice president of academic affairs in 1983. But what he valued most was engaging with his students. “Jim was an exceptional classroom teacher who became a lifelong friend,” said Richard Dean, DPU Class of 1970. “He was a wonderful mentor to me and many others. He was fun to be around. He had an authentic laugh, which I will never forget.” Cooper’s interests and skills ranged widely. As a youth, he mastered the art of tree surgery working for his father’s tree service business. He was one of the “high flyers,” climbing into upper tree limbs to trim and prune. Cooper left Princeton to attend the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he edited the college newspaper The Wooster Voice and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956. There he met Sheila Roberta McIsaac, his wife of 64 years, whom he married on the same day that she graduated. They went on to co-author a book in 1973, The Roots of American Feminist Thought, an anthology of works written by feminists over the past two centuries. A Danforth Graduate Fellow, Cooper received his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His academic interests ranged from the American revolution to urban planning, but his passion ultimately rested with cataloguing, studying and preserving Indiana’s historic bridges. For years, he tirelessly worked to document those bridges in a database that now serves as a resource for the historic preservation community. In retirement, Cooper traveled daily to a cabin in the woods where he wrote Artistry and Ingenuity in Artificial Stone: Indiana’s Concrete Bridges, 1900-1942 and Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity: Indiana’s Metal Bridges, 1870-1930. His contributions to the field were recognized with several awards, including the Indiana Historical Society’s Dorothy Riker Hoosier Historian Award. Cooper’s work captured his appreciation for the culture, ingenuity and journey of the people who built, crossed, and settled around the bridges that he so admired. Cooper relished good stories, whether they were in the classroom with his students, in the kitchen with friends and family, or on the road with bridge enthusiasts across the Hoosier state. Cooper is survived by his wife Sheila Cooper; daughter Mairi Cooper (husband Matthew Pierce); son James L Cooper Jr. (wife Dina ElBoghdady); granddaughters Sarah and Claire Cooper; and brother Barry Cooper (wife Joan).

Due to Covid, no memorial service is planned at this time. A burial service will be held at a later date at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Cooper family.


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James Louis Cooper Sr.

have a memory or condolence to add?

Mary Beth Norton

September 4, 2021

I recall with such pleasure our interactions when I visited Greencastle and you invited friends of my family for drinks and snacks, and the time we spent at that "cabin in the woods" where Jim wrote books.
My deepest sympathies to Sheila and the entire family.

Mary Beth

James Crouse

August 31, 2021

Like many others who care about our built heritage, especially in the historic bridges of our land, I know we have lost a real light, but I would also pass on the comment of another admirer:
"What a loss. Although Dr. Cooper and I had no contact for the past 20 years, he was a wonderful mentor and friend.
He was my guiding light when I was the Director of Highways for Allen County Indiana. He introduced me to the value of preservation of historic bridges and gave me the impetus and courage to restore the concrete bridges in Allen County during the 1990's.
I was blessed to know him."
William Etzler, P.E.

Vern Mesler

August 30, 2021

James Cooper, in April 2001, wrote:
“Fellow Pontists -
A lot of comment has come my way over the last half year about the potential deficiencies of old bridge pins. I have a simple empirical query on this subject. What examples do any of you know about of pins that have failed in service?
Shalom! ____________Jim”
This email was sent to a small group of bridge preservationists, one of whom had asked: do you replace the original with new. James Cooper (1934 – 2021), historian and author of two books on historic bridges, was responding to a question posed by a member of this group, which would later evolve into Eric DeLony’s Pontists’ Historic Bridge Forum. Jim recognized the value of preserving the unwritten words of craftsmen within the original members of a historic bridge, and he often worked as a volunteer to preserve this record and give voice to those who spoke in metal. Jim Cooper was a craftsman, and those who received an email from Jim will recognize his parting salutation, followed by several spaces and his name. “Shalom! ___________Jim”
Keeping Faith with the Makers (as Jim would say),
Vern Mesler, 2021

Jason Smith

August 28, 2021

James was instrumental with historic bridges in his home state. If you had a question about historic bridges, especially in Indiana or with regards to the state's bridge companies, he was the first person to contact. I have no idea how often I was in contact with him regarding inquiries, but the numbers were plenty. Because of him, Indiana has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the country and I have one of his books to prove it. My deepest condolences to his family and friends as well as those who knew him as well as everyone else in the pontist community. He will be missed dearly. Leb wohl, mein Freund.

Jason Smith, Glauchau (Saxony), Germany

bradford anderson

August 27, 2021

Dr.Cooper was one of my favorite professors at DePauw back in the 1970ś.He was good at keeping your attention and making the classes interesting.

Laurie Klinger

August 27, 2021

I reached out to Dr. Cooper cold several years ago for advice with a historic bridge fundraising campaign I was working on in Indianapolis.

Even though he was already dealing with serious health issues, he agreed to help as he could and provided invaluable advice and support for our group,

It was clear, even through the limited interactions I had, that Dr. Cooper was a special person with an intelligence, honesty and down to earth quality that stood out. His presence will be missed.

The bridge project is funded and we were able to get the City to work in changes suggested by Dr. Cooper. Work should begin next spring.

Judging by his obituary, Dr. Cooper packed in a full and worthwhile life. Can't do much better than that. I am grateful for his tacking us in as an addendum to his long list of accomplishments.

Dan McCain

August 24, 2021

Carroll County will forever be indebted to Dr.Jim for his leadership and involvement in our saving of historic bridges. We have iron and concrete monuments now restored with Jim’s dedication and involvement. He was instrumental in our creation of a group of residents wanting to save more of our historic spans. Dr. Cooper was an inspiration to be around. I loved his passion for saving important structural monuments. He will surely be missed. We love you Jim. DAN McCAIN, Delphi

Nathan Holth

August 24, 2021

Very saddened to hear of Jim's passing. I have many fond memories of visiting with Jim at various bridge conferences and once at his cabin when we was working on finalizing his amazing database of information and photos about Indiana's bridges. Such a friendly person, always enjoyable to talk with. The historic bridge community is forever indebted to him for his successful efforts to inspire preservation of historic bridges in Indiana, and to document those that were not preserved. He will be greatly missed.

Stacey Dye

August 24, 2021

It was such a pleasure to care for Jim and to get to know your family, he was a wonderful man. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Victoria Robins

August 23, 2021

Dear Sheila and family,
We are saddened by your loss. David and I fondly remember James and Mairi’s wonderful stories of her ‘geezer.’ Even though, we did not know him well - he took such interest in us. He was a special person, we are happy that we got to spend some time with him.

May his memory be for a blessing... he made a difference.
Sending love and strength.
Victoria and David Robins