Grange turns the spotlight on Gloria Cooper

Published 7:48 am Monday, April 24, 2006

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
SUMNERVILLE - She is known in Niles by her first name - Gloria.
Gloria Cooper became a surprised guest speaker after informing members of the Community Grange No. 1675 Friday evening how she became a radio personality.
She was presented the annual Community Citizen award by the local Grange master/president, Kevin Young.
The potluck open house is held annually during the yearly National Grange celebration.
The Grange is the oldest national agricultural organization in the nation. The Grange in Sumnerville is the last one in Cass County.
Normally the State master attends the event, but he was in Wisconsin at a Grange leader conference.
Cooper told how her chance to become a voice in her native community came after “Here's Ellie” left WNIL.
At that time the half hour show, she said, “was a woman's show and the radio audience was filled with men.”
But the show was sold out with sponsors and Here's Gloria became a household name. A pioneer in what is now known as “talk radio,” Cooper's show lasted 18 years.
In 1979, Cooper joined Southwestern Michigan College as its first director of public information.
At that time, she also worked in community theatre and for the Niles Daily Star as a drama critic, feature writer and entertainment editor.
At a time when many retire, Cooper worked for Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. “I obviously don't do that well,” she said about retirement.
If was after she got the job done at LMC that Ric Clingaman, station manager for WNIL, said, “think about it,” asking her to come back to her radio show, “Here's Gloria.”
Cooper said she took a few months, wrote up a proposal similar to the National Public Radio (NPR) personality Diane Rehm and formatted her new show.
She liked opening up the phone lines to listeners and expanding the show to an hour. “It's been wonderful,” she said.
She praised all of her sponsors, which she patronizes, except she added, Brown Funeral Home, which she has fortunately not needed. Though she had a scare when her husband Dick had the West Nile virus three years ago. He recovered, she said, thanks to wonderful doctors, who also have come on her show.
When WNIL became part of Planet Radio, she didn't want to move to Mishawaka, Ind., so she greets her guests at 210 Phillips Road in Niles.
She has interviewed nearly every community leader from Berrien County commissioners to judges.
One former Niles resident, Jack Strayer, who is now in Washington, D.C., is always a visitor on Christmas Eve, she added, when he comes home to see his family and bring her cookies.
He is not a name dropper, she said, but he brings “hot juice from Capitol Hill.”
But one of the most fun interviews, she said, would have to be another man returning to Niles - Tommy James. “His Hanky Panky was cut at WNIL,” she added.
As the station turns 50 years old this year, Cooper hopes James will agree to return for the celebration.
As far as difficult guests, she would have to put politicians “at the top of the list.”
She plans on continuing, “as long as my voice and memory hold out.”
Arriving about 15 minutes early, she has an outline but not the questions and answers.
Gloria and Dick have three sons and a daughter, lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She has been a member of the Niles Service League, secretary of the school board, member of the Niles District Library Board, served on the Niles-Buchanan YMCA Board and has worked with the Niles Downtown Development Authority.
In 1986, she was the first winner of the Niles Chamber of Commerce Athena Award for outstanding business Woman of the Year. In her free time, she started her own company, Creative Communications.
This March, she was honored to receive the Chamber's Lifetime Achievement award.
She was the first woman to serve on the Chamber's Board of Directors as vice president of communications.
Will she step down?
Maybe she added, if she hears, “My God, is she still on?”