PHOTO: The Jones County Board of Supervisors showed their appreciation to Supervisor Leo Cook for his 30 years of service to the county, serving on the Board since 1982. From left are Supervisors Wayne Manternach, Joe Cruise, Leo Cook, Keith Dirks, Ned Rohwedder and County Auditor Janine Sulzner. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
The story of Leo Cook’s tenure with the Jones County Board of Supervisors started 30 years ago in 1982 when a group of supporters encouraged him to run for county office.
“I was asked to consider running in the primaries that year,” he said in a recent interview.
In the April 21, 1982, issue of the Monticello Express, Cook was quoted as saying, “I was encouraged to run, and am interested in working for what the people in the area want. I believe in this district and I feel that I know the area well.”
Running against another Democrat already on the Board of Supervisors, Cook said he never dreamt he would serve for public office. At the time of the election, he had only served on the Swiss Valley Board.
“That Board (Swiss Valley) is entirely different than public office,” Cook said of the two experiences.
He’s always been an advocate for public services; one of the biggest supporters of Advancement Services of Jones County, located in Monticello. In fact, one of Cook’s final votes went to building a new facility for the non-profit organization that employs and works with people of all ages with mental disabilities.
In a candidate questionnaire that appeared in the Monticello Express on Oct. 27, 1982, Cook said of all the issues he supports, he wanted to see the county supervise social services better than in the past. This goes to show he’s been supporting such services since he started running for office.
Cook has also always been an advocate for the county roads. He commented that one of his last goals was to see the County Road D-65 project become a reality.
“You have to have a continual maintenance program to keep them (roads and bridges) up,” Cook said in the June 2, 1982, Express.
Cook has always been supportive of the roads system in Jones County, taking careful consideration as to which roads and bridges receive attention over the years.
Representing District II in the county, it wasn’t until 1990 that all voters in Jones County got the chance to vote for all county supervisors, rather than just those who served their respective district.
“We represented the county, not just those in our district,” said Cook of the voting change. He said if he received a call from someone outside his district, he never pushed that person away.
After winning the 1982 Primary and going on to win the General Election, Cook said he honestly didn’t know if he was making the right decision. His wife, Janet, said it was never a family decision. They let their husband and father make his own mind up.
“He’s had a wonderful opportunity and experience these last 30 years,” marveled Janet.
When Cook started his first run for office, his four daughters were quite young. Now, four terms and eight elections later, Cook has grandchildren as young as his daughters were when he first ran for office.
“Running for re-election all these years was just something that happened,” Cook said. He just felt the need to keep serving his county. There were issues that Cook felt passionate enough about to stay in the game each time an election approached.
“There were issues I wanted to be involved in,” he said. “I wanted to do what I could to improve Jones County.”
In 30 years, Cook admits he was never up against a hot button issue brought before the Board.
“I always tried to be progressive,” he said.
As of late, Cook said he’s seen three major changes to the mental health program since he’s been on the Board. He also had a hand in hiring the county’s first land use coordinator.
“There was a lot of controversy there,” Cook said looking back. “People didn’t want the county having control over their property.” Cook said the idea behind a land use coordinator was to help control the direction of growth within the county. “There were many public hearings that took place before the issue was settled.”
While there are hog confinements up all over the county now, Cook said the thought of putting the very first hog confinement facility up caused a stir.
“Not all issues are black and white,” Cook said. “It’s difficult to do it all. There are so many situations to consider.”
Some of the other accomplishments he is proud to be a part of include: Emergency Management and E911, hiring an IT person for the courthouse, hiring a GIS coordinator, establishing a Veteran Affairs director, changing the county attorney position from part-time to full-time, taking over the county fair with fair board members serving from each county district, working with conservation to clean up and establish county parks and recreation programs and purchasing the medical clinic near the old Anamosa hospital and turning it into county office space.
Cook said through it all, he wouldn’t have been able to serve if it weren’t for his family and brother Stan Cook, who worked with him on their farming operation all these years.
“Janet handled many phone calls over the years and Stan picked up the farm work when I was gone,” Cook said of his family pitching in when needed.
“I could never do his job,” Janet said. “And deal with so many different people.”
Now that he’s retiring from the Board of Supervisors, Cook said he and Janet have more time to spend with their eight grandkids and travel at their leisure.
Cook said Joe Oswald, who was elected to take over the District II seat on the Board, would be a good replacement and voice on the Board.
“You need to have some desire to serve and get involved,” said Cook of the position, which he sees in Oswald.
Serving with 12 different Supervisors in his 30 years, Cook said he’s learned so much from each one and each Board.
“It’s been a lifestyle change over the years,” he said.