40 Slices
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5. Bedroom Beginning

Bob Hammel Indiana University Press ePub

5

Bedroom Beginning

For me to make my product, all I needed was a blowtorch, a soldering iron, and a few little tools and fixtures I could make myself.

—Bill Cook

Within Bloomington, Indiana, within the worldwide medical devices industry, within the no-pikers Forbes 400 “family,” the most familiar part of the billionaire Bill Cook story is how everything started with a $1,500 investment and a small apartment’s spare bedroom.

In any bible about Bill Cook, that always will be Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning …” It is legend without much myth. That really is the beginning for everything that Cook Inc. grew to include.

Bill closed his days at MPL and even arrived in Bloomington with not one but two thoughts about how he might get going with a new, solely owned Cook Company.

One would have put him at least temporarily in the disintegration business. He came in contact with a man in Minneapolis–St. Paul who had bought from the U.S. military about four hundred “disintegrator” machines. Originally built for use on ships, the machines “would grind up anything—metal, food,” Cook said. His plan was to buy the four hundred machines for $400 each, upgrade them, and sell them for $5,000 to hospitals, so they could readily handle a fast-developing number of disposable items—MPL’s needles, for example. That would turn $160,000 into $2 million, in loose terms. Very loose. “Each sale would have meant maintenance, and I wanted to stay out of the maintenance business if I possibly could. It also meant installation. I’d probably have had to transport them, one way or another. Each of them weighed about a ton.

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3. Old Centrum, 2011

Bob Hammel Indiana University Press ePub

Three

Previous page. A downtown Indianapolis landmark. “Old Centrum” church in transition to new.

“Bill got to see the stained glass, the sun was bright, the organ played—everything was just gorgeous. I remember Bill turned to Gayle and said, ‘This was worth it!’”

—Marsh Davis

Maybe none of Bill Cook’s restoration projects brought more of his particular interests into play than the route to recovery for the beautiful Old Centrum Church on Indianapolis’s historic near north side.

Here was a place of architectural distinction with a history that warranted preservation, a sort of after-life of its own. It even has a dome. The building aged, yes, but kept its grandeur. To test its continued acoustical excellence, brass instruments blared. And, once its elegance was restored, it was ready to serve a valuable function.

Of course Bill and Gayle Cook jumped at the chance to rejuvenate the place and send it off into a new century with nobility of look and purpose.

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8. Monday, April 18, 2011 Just the Silence

Bob Hammel Indiana University Press ePub

Eight

That first day back at work, the Monday that ended the weekend that began with Bill Cook’s death, is not a forgotten day, probably throughout the Cook Group empire but certainly in the Park 48 headquarters of the company. Most remembered is the quiet of the day—not so much in gloom, more in what came across as a determined, unified resolve that things would go on as Bill Cook would have wanted, that his high performance standards would be continued, that the company he had conceived, built and nurtured would, indeed, not drop off an iota in keeping the customer, the product buyer, the trusting, vulnerable patient uppermost in mind.

Everyone in the building that day, and the next one or two or three, would have his or her own memory, own interpretation. “I think people had their heads down and were working, and didn’t want to laugh, because it would have been almost sacrilegious, almost an insult at that time,” Kem Hawkins says.

It was the troupers’ tribute: the show must go on.

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13. Newport Hill Climb, 2009–2010

Bob Hammel Indiana University Press ePub

Thirteen

“I didn’t know you could smoke the tires with a little Studebaker like that. But he did!”

—Carl Cook

No single word could describe Bill Cook, but competitive is one that would have to be high on any such list. That never left him, that football captain mentality that came, saw, and conquered Drum Corps, that never saw a relic revival it couldn’t handle or an industrial giant too big to take on. There’s a little plaque on the wall of a little building in a little town that only a few in Indiana know about that says big things about Bill Cook’s competitiveness.

If you’ve never heard of the Newport Hill Climb, you’re one of a vast majority that has a few hundred thousand exceptions, who—by shaky, unverifiable but quite believable count—make it the second-biggest annual sports event in Indiana every year, ranked by numbers of spectators. In the state that for more than 100 years has held the nation’s biggest annual sports event, the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, second is pretty lofty standing, particularly for an event in a town of 627 that probably not one Hoosier in a hundred could give directions to.

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14. Religion

Bob Hammel Indiana University Press ePub

14

Religion

I’ve had a great time and enjoyed every minute of my life. If that’s heaven, I’ve had enough of it. And if there is an afterlife, that’s great.

—Bill Cook

For most people, one of the most private of personal matters is religion. Sometimes it’s not left that way, even among the best of friends.

Bill Carper and Bill Cook grew up together in Canton, Illinois. The closeness they have maintained has put Carper in an awkward spot a few times in recent years. “At our church, or even in other things around town,” Carper said, “when we’re raising money to pay for special projects, people know we’re good friends, so they look at me and say, ‘Bill Cook has all kinds of money. Why don’t you see if you can get something from him?’ I always say, ‘No way. He’s a friend. I’m not going to do that.’

“But a few years ago, our church had a major building campaign. This is the church he went to when he was a kid, and he was very active in it. You never know. I thought there was at least a chance he would want to do something. So I let myself be talked into saying I would see. And the next time I talked to him I said, ‘Here’s the deal …’ and told him the details of what we were doing. Bill listened, laughed a little bit, and said very nicely, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what: you do churches, and I’ll do schools.’ And that was fine. I hated like the dickens to impose.”

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