Distinguished Service Awardee, James Wallace Cook



Today we recognize one of our Club’s past presidents, a person who has succeeded throughout his life as a student, professional engineer and executive, community leader and stalwart volunteer, wonderful husband and father, and great friend to those of us fortunate enough to know him well.  

Our Distinguished Service Awardee is a native of Huntington, “West-by-God-Virginia” – as he might say – and still has a slight southern accent to go with a generous dose of southern charm.  He grew up in a multi-generation household with parents, aunts and uncles all involved in a family hardware business, and his time spent working in the store may have stirred his curiosity  about all sorts of gadgets, machinery and science in general.  At first his father wasn’t enthusiastic about him going away to college, but that changed when he was awarded a full scholarship to Princeton, and instead of joining the family business he earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering there and a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering from Penn State.

As you may have surmised, we are talking about – and honoring – one James Wallace Cook.   Jim is and always was an excellent judge of talent and intelligence, as well as beauty.  Early evidence of that was apparent in his courtship of a young lady originally known as Constance Ewing.  They met soon after the Ewings moved to Huntington, when Jim was home between Princeton semesters, and were married when the lovely bride was still in college!  Connie earned her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, went on to earn Master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well, and is now Associate Vice Provost and Director of the U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. 

Jim and Connie are proud parents of Jay Cook, an Associate Professor of Cultural and Intellectual History at U-M.  Jay’s wife Rita also is a U-M Associate Professor of History.  They are parents of the delightful young Oliver, and they’re here today to help us honor Jim and celebrate his many contributions to club, community and family.  The Cooks’ daughter Amy is a social worker in Albuquerque.  She and husband Dan are parents of three lovely girls, Sarah, Kelsey and Robin, and Jim and Connie will help their granddaughters hunt for Easter eggs this weekend in New Mexico.

In the Cook family’s early days, Jim began a professional career that included over 40 years of engineering work and executive leadership in the energy industry, from nuclear power plant design to acquisition and management of multiple power production businesses and projects, in the United States and internationally.  He was Senior Vice President of Technology and Development for CMS Energy when he retired a little more than ten years ago.  He and Connie have lived in Ann Arbor for almost 25 years, and although Jim’s daily commuting and extensive business travel didn’t leave much time for community involvement before he retired, the ink was barely dry on his retirement papers when he launched a second career in “service above self.”

He joined our Club in July 2002 and quickly put his global business experience to effective use on the International Humanitarian Service Committee, leading major Rotary projects in the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and South and Central America.  He was a strong force in changing our Club’s culture to establish a major fundraising focus for our annual Golf Outing, significantly increasing both our financial resources to help kids succeed and Club members’ actual service in those and other projects.   He was a Club Director for six years and President in 2008-09, has been a faithful Rotary Reader and math tutor, enthusiastic participant in several iterations of the Club’s Strategic Plan, and for the past year he and fellow former presidents and Distinguished Service Awardees Anne Glendon and Norman Herbert have been working to research and plan for a major Club Centennial Project.

Besides Rotary, Jim has served as Board Member and Chair of the Ann Arbor Art Center and Washtenaw Chapter of the Red Cross and on the Board of the Michigan Diabetes Association.  Without lessening any of those commitments – except for unavoidably missing some Rotary meetings – he also resumed involvement in the energy industry (and commuting) a few years ago as a Senior Adviser with a company called Novi Energy.  One of its projects that he played a key role in is the Fremont County Complete Mix Anaerobic Digester Plant, a thoroughly “green” project in West Michigan that converts organic and agricultural waste into electricity – for which, coincidentally, Senator Stabenow helped to break ground in June 2011.

Jim says he’s winding down his post-retirement career commitments, and all of us who value his outstanding service, friendship and fellowship hope his second retirement will be permanent!  As it was my privilege to introduce him to the Club as his sponsor back in 2002, so it is today to ask you all to join me, as President Len makes the official presentation, in congratulating Jim Cook as the newest recipient of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Distinguished Service Award.

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