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IU Northwest mourns the loss of Garrett Cope, Sr.

Longtime Gary resident and IU alumnus, Cope served campus for nearly 50 years

Wednesday May 15, 2013


Indiana University Northwest regretfully announced this week the passing of Garrett Cope, Sr., former Community Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence. Cope, 85, of Gary, passed away Saturday, May 11.

Visitation will take place between 12 and 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 15 at Manuel Memorial Funeral Home, located at 421 West 5th Ave. in Gary, with family hours from 6 to 8 p.m. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m., Thursday, May 16 at St. Augustine Episcopal Church, 2425 W. 19th Ave in Gary.

Colleagues who worked with Cope described his kind nature and sincerity and his commitment to his community.

Stephen McShane, curator for the IU Northwest Calumet Regional Archives, said Cope had a “heart of gold,” and always “an upbeat, fantastic sense of humor.”

“He could make any group or any person feel at ease,” he said.  “He had a down-home friendliness that is hard to find sometimes. He genuinely cared for people.”

McShane started working with Cope in 2004 through “Senior University,” a program in which local senior citizens came to campus for two weeks each summer to learn new skills.

Thanks to Cope’s charm, it was easy to get folks to sign up for Senior University, McShane recalled.

Born in Tennessee, Cope’s family moved to Chicago during his elementary school years, and later to Gary where Cope’s parents had gained employment with the H.B. Snyder family of the Post-Tribune. After he had graduated from Froebel High School in 1944, the Snyders, who recognized that Cope had excellent academic possibilities, sponsored his education through his baccalaureate and master’s degrees at Indiana University.

While a student there, he helped to establish a chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which was noted for maintaining the highest academic grade point average among all fraternities on campus at the time. He also established a private dance school, participated in student government and helped to racially integrate student housing on campus.

Cope earned two master’s degrees at IU – one in theatre and one in general education. He then went on to teach at the Gary Community Schools Corporation, where he was a member of the Little Theatre Guild as an actor, producer and director. Cope had extensively studied dance, theater and singing throughout his life.

Longtime friend Anne Thompson met Cope in 1954 when both were speech and drama teachers at Roosevelt High School. In fact, it was Thompson who introduced him to Barbara, who became his wife of 57 years.

“In Gary, Garrett did all the plays and drama,” Thompson said. “He was an icon. Whenever you did anything at the high school, you sort of ran it by Garrett.

“He was a wonderfully talented and artistic person of our day,” Thompson said. “He could sing and dance and direct. He was a tremendous costume designer. He could build sets. He knew everything there was to know about theater.”

Cope was hired as a part-time instructor at IU Northwest, but later moved to Michigan for three years to care for his aging parents. The Copes eventually moved back to Gary and back to employment at IU Northwest in the 1970s, with Barbara serving as the Vice Chancellor for Student Services, and Garrett as assistant professor of speech and theatre, and chairman of the fine arts and speech, and communications departments. In 1979, he was promoted to associate professor and tenured in 1980.

Most recently with IU Northwest’s Center, he facilitated Senior University, Glen Park Conversations, and the Lifestyle Enrichment Tours.

Ellen Szarleta, Ph.D., J.D., Director of the Center, admired Cope for his ability to inspire others to action simply by the example he set.

“He made you want to be involved. He made you want to give and that, I think, gave him a presence that everybody respected,” Szarleta said. “He wasn’t asking you to do it, but rather, he was demonstrating all the value in doing it.”

Szarleta said Cope lived and breathed community service.

“He thought about what it meant to really be a responsible community partner from the university side. He identified what he thought were the more important concerns and needs in the community, together with the community members, and he found solutions to address those issues and those needs.”

As one example, Cope gave seniors access to the arts by organizing bus trips to top Chicago productions. He recognized that transportation was an obstacle for seniors. This, combined with his love of theatre, created an opportunity for seniors in the community to experience the arts.

“I think he had a very commanding presence,” Szarleta said. “When you would go to see him, you knew that he was dedicated to the programs that he was administering, dedicated to the community and that dedication came through as passion.”

Altogether, sources say, Garrett gave 59 of his years to teaching.

Cope is survived by his wife, Barbara Jean (Moore) Cope, two sons, Garrett David and Michael Livingston; daughter-in-law, Patricia Cope, great-grandson, Nave, sister-in-law, Mary Madison and may other relatives and friends.

IU Northwest extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Garrett Cope, Sr.

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