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Willie R. Cook’s life of faith: ‘I’m going to make it another day’

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Willie R. Cook beside a bookcase and globe

Willie R. Cook focuses intently as he kneels in his vintage-furnished apartment at Central Towers in downtown St. Paul, Minn. Carefully he pieces together the yellowed remnants of a torn and frayed 1949 edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Willie is passionate about preserving history in his home and his hobbies. “I’m most interested in the 1950s and African slavery,” he explains.

Willie’s perspective

Willie pieces together an old newspaperWhen asked about recognizing February as Black History Month, Willie’s thoughts are resolute. “You know, I live day by day,” he said. “My best friend is white. There’s prejudice, bias in the world. The thing about it is everybody’s not like that. You know, I respect the person until they disrespect me. They disrespect me, and I just go the other way.”

Willie remembers as a child moving from Mississippi to Racine, WI, where his dad worked “two shifts on the docks” to afford a family home in a 1960s white neighborhood.

Although Willie experienced prejudice then, his happiest memories are playing with all the neighborhood kids. “We was all cool,” he said, “and the thing about it is they would all end up at my house. And we’d play stickball and basketball and [anything] whatsoever.”

‘I have faith that I’m going to make it another day’

Willie hangs a faith ornament on his front doorLooking back on a life packed with heartache and surprise blessings, Willie sees without a doubt the hand of God. “I have faith,” he says. “But I know faith is only as good as long as you’re working with it. You know, you’ve got to help faith. I have faith that I’m going to make it another day. But I gotta work for it, I gotta work towards it.”

Faith in God through times of suffering leads to growth — this, Willie knows. So, with faith and a bit of patience, he’s attempting to propagate a ‘Crown of Thorns,’ a tropical plant cutting from a friend in Florida. “This plant is what they put on Jesus’ head,” he explains, as many believe but no one knows for certain.

“I’m trying to re-root it and let it grow up,” Willie says. “Then as it grows out and [develops] branches, I’ll cut them off and contribute them to churches [to display].”

The ‘Crown of Thorns’ cutting in a small glass of water in Willie’s apartment is symbolic, he says, “because of what Jesus went through – the pains and sufferings – before he moved on.”

Living with gratitude and purpose

Willie praises the goodness of God all around him. “I see the goodness of Him when I went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “[The doctor] gave me a prescription because I wasn’t sleeping … I would sleep a little, wake up, sleep a little, wake up again and have these terrible nightmares. But now the nerves in my legs don’t bother me anymore, and I get at least six hours a sleep a night.”

Willie continues: “So when I get up in the morning, I find something, you know, around here to do. That’s having faith in the Lord, that he’s going to take care of me.”

Willie says that Central Towers is a testament to God’s provision.

I love it here. The staff is really nice, very helpful, friendly. This here has been a blessing. Like I said, I’ve got faith, and the Lord works in mysterious ways. On a scale of 1 to 10 for Central Towers, I give it a 10 – a full 10.”

Turning toward a sign on his wall, Willie reads his life’s plan:

Be thankful. Live simply. Be kind. Believe in yourself. Never give up. Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Help others. Cherish family and friends. Do your best. Listen with your heart [Willie reads with emphasis]. Laugh often and love lots.

Find out how you or an older adult in your life can pursue purposeful living at a PHS community in Minnesota, Iowa or Wisconsin. Visit www.preshomes.org/living-and-care-options/find-a-community.

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