Barbara Jane Wood Cook, age 85 of Sumnerville, Michigan; sister, friend; educator, community leader, historian, and lifelong equestrian died peacefully on Monday, October 2, 2023 with a friend at her side at Corewell Health Lakeland Hospital Saint Joseph following a brief illness.
She was born on July 1, 1938 in Niles, Michigan to Jerome W. and Priscilla J. (Barbary) Wood, and was graduated from Niles High School. She earned an Associate degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, a Bachelor of Science in Business from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and later a Master of Arts in Education from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. She began her career at Brandywine Community Schools in 1964 teaching business classes and coordinating the Vocational Co-operative for students at Brandywine, Niles, and Buchanan. In 1990 she joined the adjunct faculty of Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac to teach business and communication, completing her teaching career in 2000.
Barb was a member and secretary of the first Board of Trustees of the Cass County Community College - soon to become Southwestern Michigan College - from 1964 until 2000. She was elected Pokagon Township Supervisor in 1990, serving until 2000, and served as a Certified Assessor to the township for many years. She was appointed to the Cass County Planning Commission who elected her Chairperson for several years, and represented the county on the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. She was also a member of the Pokagon Township Cemetery Board, investing much time and effort to research, document, and maintain the Sumnerville Cemetery.
Barb had a great interest in genealogy and history, was appointed to the Cass County Historical Commission, and served on the founding board of directors for the SMC Museum, which eventually became the Dowagiac Area History Museum. She also participated on the committees to secure three Michigan History Markers: Sumnerville Hopewellean Mounds, Sumnerville Cemetery, and The Old Rugged Cross Church. She served for many years on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Michigan, was a member of the Archaeological Advisory Committee and liaison to Western Michigan University’s Field School for the Fort Saint Joseph Archaeological Project in Niles. She was also a member of the U.S.12 Heritage Council, the Samuel Felt Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and helped secure the Michigan Bar Association’s “Legal Milestone” for Cass County’s role in the Underground Railroad.
Outside of Cass County, Barb enjoyed traveling, beginning as a college student touring Europe, and over the years visiting much of the United States, cruising to the Caribbean, passed through the Panama Canal, and completed two world cruises.
Home for Barb was always the 395-acre Woodbrook Farm on Wood Road which Barbara dates back to her great-great-grandfather. The property includes native woods, a pleasant portion of the Pokagon Creek, as well as crops and pastures. The farm is also home to a changing roster of animals including beef cattle, hogs, geese, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, peacocks, and Barbara’s beloved and successful Arabian horses. She was a longtime member of the Farm Bureau, and worked with MEANDRS (Meeting the Ecological and Agricultural Needs of the Dowagiac River System) to restore the Dowagiac from a straight, dredged path to its original bends.
In all of her endeavors, Barb went far beyond attending meetings and conducting the current business – very simply, she left each board better prepared to accomplish its mission in the future. She wrote Pokagon Township’s ordinance for the growing gravel pits as well as a new Township Zoning Ordinance. She wrote or co-authored a dozen published books on local history, authored several walking tour brochures of historical sites in Cass County, and – keeping-up with technology – has left us with fifteen PowerPoint presentations including the History of Chocolate, and her Queen Mary II World Voyage.
She was first married to Jerry Hunziker of Niles, and in 1985 married Grafton H. “Grif” Cook, Jr. of Dowagiac who preceded her in death on August 7, 2009. She was also preceded in death by her parents, Jerome W. Wood on January 20, 1970 and Priscilla Wood on January 16, 2004.
Surviving family includes Barb’s sisters, Mary Jane Zabinski and Carolyn Jane Wood, both of Okatie, South Carolina; Grif’s children, Grafton, David, Katherine, John, and James and their children. She will also be greatly missed by Barbara Dempsey of Edwardsburg with whom she traveled on a 3-month world cruise, and shared Sunday lunches every week for nine years; by the other two members of a trio of horsewomen who rode Arabians, drove the same brand pick-up trucks towing the same brand of horse trailers: Cynthia M. Brosnan and Betsy Hudson-Hollingsworth. Barb will also be missed by a grateful community as evidenced by the Cass County Board of Commissioners first ever Legacy Achievement Award Resolution in 2018 which concludes with acknowledging “the endless time and dedication Barbara Wood Cook has devoted to Cass County, and she did so with the utmost dignity and respect that will be a lasting legacy to Cass County.”
The Memorial Service for Barbara Wood Cook will be at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, October 9, 2023 at the Old Rugged Cross Church, 61041 Vermont Street, Pokagon, Michigan 49047 with Molly Shaffer officiating. Committal services will follow at the Sumnerville Cemetery. The services will be available online on the Halbritter-Wickens Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/halbritterwickensfuneralservices/.
Contributions in memory of Barbara Cook may be made to the Southwestern Michigan College Foundation, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, Michigan, 49047, https://www.swmich.edu/community/smc-foundation/; or to the Old Rugged Cross Foundation, Post Office Box 41, Niles, Michigan, 49120, http://www.the-oldruggedcross.org/waystohelp.php; or to the Fort Saint Joseph Museum, 508 East Main Street, Niles, Michigan, 49120, https://www.nilesmi.org/departments_and_divisions/niles_history_center/fort_st_joseph_museum.php.
Arrangements were completed at the Halbritter Wickens Funeral Home, 615 East Main Street in Niles. Online memories may be left at:
On the early morning of Barb’s death, the car carrying her remains from Saint Joseph to Niles took a slight detour across Pokagon Road and Crystal Springs Street, crossing Dowagiac Creek, and turning down Wood Road. As it approached the entry to Woodbrook Farm in the pre-dawn darkness and fog, deer suddenly appeared – not just a few, but seemingly the entire herd. They ran along next-to the car, and then – as if on-cue – all leapt over the pasture fence, like a troupe of ballet dancers in the final act, welcoming Barbara home.