His father L.T. Cook Sr. was different. Cook Sr., a lifelong educator, took the job of Superintendent of Sherman ISD in 1930. For nearly 15 years, he presided over the education of Sherman students, often guiding them towards nearby Austin College. Cook Sr. worked closely with Sherman Bearcat football coach Verde Dickey, himself an Austin College Kangaroo. When Dickey left for greener pastures, Cook Sr. found another Kangaroo to replace him. Because Sherman and Austin College shared facilities in the 1930s, L.T. Cook Sr. was often on campus to coordinate scheduling with AC administration.
L.T. Cook Jr. though, just wanted to be in the sky. Born in 1913, he was already an experienced pilot at age 25 when he was contacted by the Roosevelt administration for clandestine work. FDR was preparing for the possibility of war and began a secret program to employ pilots to teach local kids how to fly. L.T. Cook Jr. spent most of the late 1930s quietly preparing that next generation of pilots for Uncle Sam. Many have called them the “unsung heroes” of WW2.
After the war, Cook Jr. continued his career in aviation. He oversaw the construction of the Sherman Municipal Airport and managed its terminal. He bought land and constructed a small landing strip on his property. He offered his crop-dusting skills to local farmers. And he continued to teach local Grayson County kids how to become pilots.
One sixteen-year old took Cook Jr. up on his services in 1967. He later wrote about the experience.
“[Cook Jr.] saw I was serious about flying and that I had an obvious enthusiasm, despite my low-key demeanor. He said he’d charge me six dollars per hours for the airplane. For his time training me, he asked for another three dollars an hour.”
After 16 lessons over a couple of months, it was time. Cook Jr. instructed his young Grayson County apprentice to take off and land solo.
“Climbing to 800 feet above the ground, and then circling the field, I felt an exhilarating freedom. I also felt a certain mastery. After listening, watching, asking questions, and studying hard, I had achieved something. Here I was, alone in the air.”
The kid flew up into the Sherman sky. Austin College and downtown were to his left. But he was not up there to enjoy the view. “My goal was to do this well enough so that Mr. Cook would let me do it again.”
The flight only lasted 9 minutes but impacted the youngster for a lifetime. “Cook had given me confidence. He had given me permission to discover that I could get a plane safely into the air and then safely back to the ground. That first solo flight served as confirmation that this would be my livelihood, and my life.”
I enjoy tying the community of Austin College to state, national, and international events. This particular story was only a local one for decades, and of no particular interest to me or you. But that changed for all of us on January 15, 2009. That’s when this 16-year old Grayson County kid, whose first solo flight included a flyby of Austin College, safely landed his crew and passengers into the waters named for one of my distant Great Uncles.