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Bow says goodbye to community icon today

October 26, 2011

Mary Bell Cooksley of Weissert, departed this life Oct. 20, 2011 after a long, eventful career in community service and agriculture. She was born Sept. 12, 1920, the elder daughter of Frank Joseph and Hetty Bell Haumont, and spent her childhood on her grandfather Jules Haumont’s French Table homestead a few miles north and west of Weissert. She and her sister, Elizabeth Lucille (Betty), rode horseback to attend nearby Elton School, and rode even farther to attend Rose Valley School for grades nine and ten. Both sisters graduated from Broken Bow High School. Mary Bell graduated first in her class of 1937.
In 1942 Mary Bell earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Vocational Education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and spent a semester teaching Home Economics at Page, Neb. On Christmas Day 1942, she and Lt. Leo C. Cooksley were married. The newlyweds moved to Ft. Clark, Texas, where she taught algebra, general science, and vocal music until Leo was deployed in 1944 to North Africa as Quartermaster of the Second Cavalry Division. Leo’s wartime injuries in Southern France brought him back to Mary Bell and infant daughter, Mary Lea, on a hospital ship in 1945.
During Leo’s next four years of military service, the family moved to Pomona, Calif. Remount Depot at the W.K.Kellogg Arabian Horse Farm, Fort Robinson, Neb., where Mary Bell and Leo participated in the jumping horse exhibition team, Fort Reno, Okla., and Camp Lee, Va. Along the way they began purchasing the Thoroughbreds that formed the nucleus of their own horse breeding program.
Following World War II and the mechanization of the cavalry, Lt. Col. Leo Cooksley resigned his commission in 1949, and returned to the Weissert farm he and Mary Bell had purchased on their wedding day. There they made their home, raised six children, and worked together in many civic organizations.
After her father’s death in 1973, Mary Bell and Leo acquired her parents’ ranch and herd of double-registered Shorthorn cattle. Mary Bell devoted the next 38 years to carrying on her father’s legacy of preserving and promoting the best beef and milking qualities of the dual-purpose Shorthorn cattle breed. At various times Mary Bell served on the boards of directors of both the American Shorthorn Association and American Milking Shorthorn Society. In 1978 her cattle earned her the national “Breeder of the Year” award.
Through the years, Mary Bell’s community service included the following organizations and positions: Custer County Agricultural Society state delegate, Nebraska Association of Fair Manager’s Auxiliary president, Gen. George A. Custer Chapter D.A.R. Regent, Broken Bow Elks Lodge #1688 Exalted Ruler, (co-first female Exalted Ruler in Nebraska), Nebraska State and local Grange, Westerville Township committeewoman, and legislative advocate for the Farmer’s Union, Farm Bureau, and Nebraska School Improvement Association.
Mary Bell was recognized for her service with the following awards: Admiral of the Nebraska Navy, Custer County Women in Agriculture, DAR Community Service, Elks Officer of the Year, Nebraska Fair Person of the Year, Custer County Friend of the Fair, Broken Bow High School Outstanding Alumnus, Nebraska State Grange Distinguished Service.
Since 1935, Mary Bell supported the Weissert Church of God and contributed her vocal talents to the church chorus and trio. She also delighted in helping people focus on the brighter side of life by recalling apt quotations to fit each situation. No one who had time to sit with Mary Bell and reminisce stayed a stranger for long. Even those who disagreed with her views respected her as a determined woman of character.
Mary Bell is survived by her children: Mary Lea (Charles R.) Wallace of Norman, OK; Kenton C. (and friend Faye Coakley) of Sierra Vista, AZ; Kevin T. (and Shannon) of Weissert; Crystal Bell (Robert) Schweiger of Idaho Falls, ID; Kerry A. (and Terry) of Alda, NE; and Kourtney G. (and Jimel) of Chadron, NE, 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, sister, and grandson Cameron Wallace.
Funeral services for Mary Bell Cooksley are set for Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. in the United Methodist Church in Broken Bow. Burial in the Lone Tree Cemetery near Weissert will follow. Funeral arrangements are provided by Govier Brothers Mortuary of Broken Bow.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggest memorials to the Custer County Agricultural Society, or to the Broken Bow Elks Lodge #1688.

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