Two years ago, the universe aligned to bring Jack Hooper back into our lives. A successful agri-businessman in Merced, California, Jack had hired Salonen Construction off and on over the years to help him restore/refurbish the C. Ray Robinson house, a beautiful, iconic but run-down mansion. In the years between our last job for Jack and his call in 2011, Jack had lost his wife of forty-plus years, lost a daughter to cancer and suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair. He called us in early March to build a handicap ramp so he could breakfast with guests staying at the now completely refurbished Hooper House Bear Creak Inn B&B.
When our job was completed, Jack mentioned to my husband that he’d been working on his biography, but it was slow going because he could only type with one hand–his left (and he was right-handed). Paul immediately scribbled my email on the back of his card and gave it to Jack, saying, “Call Deb. She just published her first e-book. She can steer you in the right direction.”
Jack called. Would I be interested in co-authoring his biography? I said, “Yes.” And so began one of my most interesting work adventures ever. I tell people, “Helping Jack put together his book–From The Ground Up: The Life and Times of Jack F. Hooper–was like going back to school for my Ph.D. in history.”
Despite his physical limitations, Jack’s mind remained razor sharp. He’d already crafted a timeline of events that helped to shape the man he’d become. I merely had to flesh out the bare bones of his story so people could see this journey as something bigger than one man’s trials and tribulations. Jack lived in a unique time period. His parents encouraged him to dream and demonstrated by example that hard work got results. He did things most people only dream of doing–he traveled around the world, taught college, consulted on huge agricultural projects from Alaska to Texas. He was a cowboy, a pilot, an inventor, a public servant, a loving husband, father and grandfather.
Like the wonderful book, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Album, it’s difficult to know who benefited most from Jack’s and my weekly meetings. I stirred up his memory. He reignited my love of research. He’d mention something offhand–like his father visiting Neptune Beach in Alameda. I found photos of it on the Internet.
We completed the e-version of the book by Christmas. Then, over the course of the next few months, Jack labored over a new ending for the print version. He wanted to share what he considered “Life Lessons” he hoped would benefit his grandchildren.
We held a Book Signing at his beautiful inn last November–the culmination of months of work and a lifetime of living. Jack happily crossed off one item from his bucket list.
At the same time I was helping Jack write his biography, my resourceful, multi-talented husband, Paul, was completing a ground-up restoration of Jack’s 1947 Mercury Woodie station wagon, which had fallen into the wrong hands. A few weeks ago, Paul drove the car–in all its restored glory–to Merced and took Jack for a ride. Jack’s health had been failing since the start of the year. He was very frail, but he managed to sit behind the wheel once. Another item crossed off his bucket list.
Jack Hooper passed away last Thursday. He was 78. Here’s the obituary I wrote:
Longtime Merced businessman Jack Hooper passed away June 6, 2013. He was 77. Jack Frederick Hooper, a fourth-generation Merced County resident and farmer, was born in Berkeley on December 2, 1936, to Earl R. and Anna (Jorgensen) Hooper. Although raised in Berkeley, where he graduated from Berkeley High and the University of California, earning a Ph.D. in Economics in 1966, Jack remained close to his family in the Gustine area. When the opportunity arose in 1987, he returned to Merced to shoulder the task of restoring the iconic Merced fixture, the C. Ray Robinson house, to its current charm and beauty.
Jack Hooper lived an industrious life and wore many hats. He taught Economics at Utah State in Logan, Utah. Later, he became an economic consultant for the global investment firm, Oppenheimer Industries. A pilot, Jack served as Vice-President of World Airways, working with larger-than-life, charismatic owner Ed Daley, who became well known for his effort to airlift orphans out of Vietnam in 1975. As a consultant, he traveled the world over, but his heart was in agriculture and he returned to the Central Valley in 1977 to manage Red Rock Farms on Highway 140 between Merced and Planada. A resourceful inventor, Jack designed and constructed a portable grading station, which could be transported to the crops. He continued to grade carrots in the Westmorland area until 2011 when he sold the facility to Grimmway Farms.
In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Jack served on the Merced Irrigation District Board for twenty years and was named Outstanding Individual in Agriculture: Business in 2001 by the Merced Farm Bureau.
Jack married the love of his life, Mona Briand Hooper, on October 18, 1958. They had three daughters: Rose-Anne, De-Anne and Cari-Anne.
Jack is preceded in death by his beloved wife, his parents and daughter Cari-Anne. He is survived by a brother, Dan Hooper, of Sacramento; daughters Rose-Anne Gross (Harvey) of New Jersey and De-Anne of Piercy, son-in-law Larry McClung, two granddaughters, Nicholette and Andréa Barajas, and three grandsons, Cristián Barajas and Ian and Logan McClung. His Hooper House family includes Adrian Munoz, Babatte Pareira, Bonnie McGowen, Rhonda Prothro, Cheryl Smith, and his devoted nurses Lisa Piceno and Jessica Meza.
What I find most intriguing about this story is the timing. If Jack had approached me a year earlier and asked for my help, I would have been under contract with Harlequin, juggling deadlines and unavailable to give this the attention it deserved. If he’d waited another six months to start the restoration on his Woodie, he wouldn’t have lived to see it done.
What’s on your bucket list?