Corporate leader and philanthropist Bill Cook died late last week. He had what may have been the perfect “wake” or memorial service in the next two days when hundreds gathered at his most recent project: The Indiana Landmarks Center. What a stunning transformation he helped to lead and fund there. The facility is a bright renewed (and adapted) addition to Indiana’s collection of very special places— and that collection of places itself is in part Cook’s legacy.
Yet what may well be even more enduring than the places he helped to save with his wife Gayle and son Carl is the change in how we think in this State of Indiana.
Cook made all of us realize that great works in physical space, tremendous restorations and readapted use are not really about the buildings. They are about people. When Cook, his family and colleagues— and all the talented designers, architects, craftsmen, engineers and others worked on a project like Landmarks Center or West Baden – or many others- they help all of us rethink what we all can be. What we might be.
Most restoration and preservation work gets attention because of how nice the restored facility looks — often transforming what had been an eyesore or place about which neighbors worried. What gets overlooked is how many people come together to work and change and improve a place. Projects a hundred times smaller than West Baden or Landmarks Center all across Indiana engage and activate citizens, get them involved in their towns and help turn them into leaders. The people themselves are transformed- because they come together to remake something in their midst.
Cook was a huge force for good in this way— and that force may well last way beyond the buildings he helped restore.