Heavy Equipment Operator James Cooper built a reputation at Metro Parks that will be talked about for quite some time. Not only did he make an impact from his consistent, exceptional work ethic, but also for Black kids, who at the time, saw someone for the first time in their lives that looked like them who contributed to building their community.
James, affectionately known as “Coop” to his Metro Parks family, began his journey with us in 1973. It is fitting that a program known as JOY— Job Opportunity for Youth—brought this gregarious team member with his dynamic personality to serve his community. He started working part-time as a crew member at Point Defiance Park through the federal program that helped kids from low-income families land summer jobs. James continued to work with Metro Parks while earning his education at Wilson High School. After graduating, he attended Green River College for a year before moving into full-time employment with us in 1976.
His new duties as a 40-hour per week employee would begin to take him all across Tacoma. After working as a level I maintenance employee, James made the jump to a level III and was assigned to Meadow Park Golf Course in 1983. Three years later, he would return to Point Defiance until being promoted again in 1991 as an equipment operator.
Coop says he was very proud to be an equipment operator for 29 years at Metro Parks Tacoma. His passion for our parks extended into his downtime when he often served as a volunteer with our CHIP-in! Program.
Not only was he proud to come to work every day, James describes how honored he was to become a representation for Black kids in Tacoma neighborhoods. When they saw him driving down the streets of the Central District, Hilltop and McKinley Park neighborhoods in his International ten-yard dump truck, he saw the look on their faces wrapped in smiles and hope.
James says the kids would run up to his truck to have conversations and excitedly ask, “Do you drive this?”
Heavy equipment operation can be both challenging and dangerous work. Ironically, though it was the transporting of the equipment for service that turned out to be one of James’ most memorable on the job experiences is one and fellow equipment operator, Walt Miller, call their Dance on I-5.
James and Walt were taking a John Deere 310SJ Loader to get maintenance service. They had the machine on a trailer towed by a truck. As James, merged onto I-5 moving just 15 miles per hour the trailer decided it was going to go a different direction than the truck. After the trailer swayed back and forth crossing lanes on the highway, James described the truck doing a doughnut and a half near the Tacoma Dome before the trailer ultimately overturned.
Coop, who is a masterful storyteller, likes to joke that Walt had his eyes closed and screamed the whole time.
Surprisingly, the loader stayed on the trailer throughout the episode, and best of all, no one was hurt.
James retired at the end of July and he has transitioned into the next chapter of his life. He’s been working regularly on his golf game at Meadow Park Golf Course where he now reaps the benefits of the care he showed the course decades ago. Additionally, James wants to explore around the world with Ireland topping his bucket list. The extra time will also give him an opportunity to dive into a subject that fascinates him, military history.
James says Metro Parks had a lasting impact on him that included helping him develop a goal-oriented mindset; success as an individual, crew member and an organization; and an appreciation for the respect and admiration.
“That’s something you take with you forever,” James said.
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