Civic and community leader Thelma V. Cook succumbed to cancer May 16, 2016. She was 77.
Cook spent decades in the St. Louis region and elsewhere advocating for broadening educational opportunities and increasing access to cultural institutions. She came to St. Louis from Jefferson City in the mid-1980s to administer the national minority and public affairs programs of The Seven-Up Co. She moved from there to Anheuser-Busch Cos., serving as executive assistant to the vice president of corporate affairs and director of corporate community relations.
She continued her community service upon retirement, most recently serving as a member and immediate past chairman of the Zoo Museum District, and was the immediate past chairwoman of the Board of Regents for Harris-Stowe State University.
She was an active member of Second Baptist Church in Jefferson City. At Second Baptist she served as a co-director of their youth program and as a deaconess, before accepting a position in St. Louis.
She was one of two daughters born to the late Leonard R. and Thelma V. Upperman in the Bronx, N.Y. She graduated from North Carolina Central University with a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology and a minor in psychology, and earned a Master of Education degree in guidance and counseling from Lincoln University. Harris-Stowe State University honored her in May 2015 with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
One of her first advocacy efforts occurred while at Oklahoma State University in the 1960s. Her husband, Nathan, was pursuing an advanced degree, and she served as assistant dean of student affairs for the university. She found herself mentoring students and helped to mediate discussions between the student body and university administration during turbulent civil rights demonstrations.
When her husband secured a teaching position at Lincoln University, she became a counselor and later served as director of Placement and director of University Relations and Development. She established relationships between the university and major corporations to provide students with varied career opportunities. Her ability to forge those connections drew interest from management of Seven-Up, which recruited her to St. Louis.
She had a deep interest in performance and visual arts, having studied ballet and African dance as a child. She believed that children, regardless of background or family income, should be exposed to the arts. She sought to ensure that St. Louis-area children would experience the arts in various forms and became a board member of the St. Louis Art Museum, Dance St. Louis and the Missouri Arts Council.
That concern for exposing area children to the arts can be traced to her experience as a mother to her daughters, Carlene and Erika. Helping to provide others opportunities similar to those she was able to provide for her children was important to her, her family said.
She was a member of the board of Girls Inc. of St. Louis, the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club, the YWCA of St. Louis, Monsanto YMCA and Women of Achievement and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.
She received two presidential commendations for services to youth from the Department of Education; the first Outstanding Female Executive of the Year from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; 100 Best and Brightest Black Women for the Year from Ebony Magazine; Induction in to the Hall of Fame from the Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs; Outstanding Service Award from the National Alliance of Business; and Women of Achievement of St. Louis, Missouri.
One of her other passions was animals. She fed this passion by becoming a board member of the Friends Council of the Humane Society, where she volunteered countless hours supporting the needs of sheltered animals in the St. Louis community.
At the time of her death, she was Central Area representative of Links, Inc., a women’s national volunteer organization; local president of the social organization, the Smart Set; and a Diamond Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
In addition to her husband, survivors include daughters, Carlene Cook of St. Louis and Erika Aaron (Carl) of Atlanta; sister, Carolyn Clark (Edwin) of Lexington, KY.; grandsons, Carl Jr. and Christian Aaron of Atlanta; and several nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and a great grandnephew.
Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending.