About Our Founder, Jim Cook

Founder Jim Cook
Jim and Shirley Cook celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2006

Born in 1937, Jim Cook grew up on a farm in McGirk, MO, and joined the United States Marine Corps immediately following high school. He learned machine tool skills while studying for his role as an airplane mechanic at Pensacola Naval Air Station and Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, in California. In 1956, Jim married his high school sweetheart, Shirley Stevenson.

After four years, including one year in Asia, Jim left the Marine Corps, and he and Shirley settled in Kansas City, MO. Jim worked in several machine shops—often working two jobs to make ends meet for his family of five. He then went to work as a project engineer at Chesebrough Ponds in Jefferson City, MO, where he later led their staff of maintenance mechanics. During that time, Jim had articles published in trade magazines and spoke at industry conferences on leadership and maintenance best practices.

Jim and Shirley started Central States Industrial in Jefferson City, MO, in 1977. In 1984, they moved the company to Springfield to be closer to much of the sanitary process installation work they were doing. Jim continued to lead his family and his business to honor the Lord, and there are many incredible stories about God blessing this business. While Jim was never loud or overbearing, people knew where he stood.

Jim retired in 1999, passing the baton to his eldest son Mark. But Jim still loved to spend time at “the shop,” and people there loved to see him and visit with him. 

In August 2014, Jim passed from this life to the next, but his vision for CSI still lives on. His by-words, “Do what you've said you’ll do,” and “Finish jobs,” are still quoted at CSI.

After the gift of salvation, the greatest blessing of my life has been the encouragement of my parents. So it is an honor for me to tell you that I have no greater admiration for any human than my dad.

Mark Cook

Jim Cook Was An American Hero

Eulogy delivered by J. Mark Cook at Jim’s funeral, August 23, 2014

 

As life on earth became more and more difficult for Dad, and this moment became eminent, I have thought about this time today with friends and loved ones present. Out of many themes that went through my mind, one kept coming back: Jim Cook was an American hero. 

Here are some things we know about heroes:

  • Heroes know Jesus is their Savior, and they serve him and claim him and teach their children about him.
  • Heroes value education for themselves and others. They see education as “preparation.”
  • They have compassion and are able to practice loving others by putting the needs of other people ahead of their own.
  • Heroes network. They reach out, create friendships, and share dreams.
  • They find inspiration from past heroes. They learn what others have done to make a difference.
  • And they are prepared to sacrifice and risk what they have to help others and themselves. They are willing to risk the status quo for growth.
  • Heroes are givers.

Dad grew up on a small farm in central Missouri, and stories of work there were always told to us in a positive light; almost like it wasn’t work. Before he turned 18, he convinced my grandmother to sign a waiver so he could join the Marine Corps. He wanted a chance to see the world outside of central Missouri. That is risk, it is education, and it is networking.

Jim and Shirley on their wedding day, August 25, 1956

During boot camp he had a dream to become an air traffic controller and he earned the highest grades in his class. As a result of the highest grade, he had his choice of schools and asked for air traffic control. He was sent to take the airmen’s physical, and he failed because of his height. He had a plan. He executed it. Now, at the bottom of the list, things changed. He adapted, and then he flourished. He turned every success and every disappointment into knowledge and used it to keep getting better. He learned skills that he would use throughout every part of his career.

After machinist training he was assigned to an aviation squadron where he learned a special type of welding called heliarc welding. This was a skill that would later become very important. That was preparation.

He served in Japan for about 15 months, and I bet they were grueling months. But the stories we heard were always about the things he got to see, the opportunities he experienced, and the people he met.

He and my mom moved to Kansas City, and he found work in a small machine shop. They were poor, and I was sick. Dad continued to educate himself with a home study correspondence course in industrial management. He never talked about not being able to afford college, not having time, or any other excuses. Dad pursued education for himself.

Throughout his life, Dad committed and sacrificed time to things bigger than himself. Church, friends, trade associations, community, and the company he started in 1977 are all vehicles Dad used to serve others, to teach what he believed, to encourage, and to make a difference.

He turned down the offer of a nice raise at a job in a large union machine shop. When I asked him why, he said, “I was afraid that I would get comfortable, and stuck, and not grow.” That is sacrifice. And risk.

During those years my parents were blessed with many great, lifelong friends. Friends were made at work and in the neighborhood. They were always connected with their church and made many of their lifelong friends through work in their church.

In 1977—9 years into a 10-year retirement vesting—he left a stable job and started Central States Industrial. He told me that he didn’t want to look back on the best years of his life and regret that he didn’t do something more fulfilling. That is sacrifice. And risk.

The original crew: Jim Cook, Kelly Enloe, and Steve Bates in 1983

I worked two summers in the plant that dad left, and people from all over the plant would tell me how much they liked my dad and how much they missed him. This was a 200,000 square foot industrial plant with almost 1,000 employees. He never worked in the same department as many of these people. Clearly my dad touched people’s lives directly and indirectly.

Throughout his life Dad studied heroes. He read or listened to many books about the people who built and defended our country. People who explored unknown territories, built railroads in impossible terrain, built businesses from ideas; and he loved to read about the many people who heroically defended our freedom in Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and Korea. He loved learning just how tough tough-guys really were.

What have we learned through our experience with Dad? What is our responsibility to those around us? For many of us, the most visible result of Dad’s influence is CSI. But we don’t have to create a CSI to be a hero.

In the obituary you read about ways in which Dad, throughout his life, committed and sacrificed time to things bigger than himself. Church, friends, trade associations, community, and the company he started in 1977 are all vehicles Dad used to serve others, to teach what he believed, to encourage, and to make a difference.

What if the true evidence of this hero is the development of many heroes? Hundreds of people, touched by the influence of Jim Cook, who each week contribute to successful families and churches, businesses, schools, bands, scout troops and support groups, Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis clubs, and friends.

What have we learned through our experience with Dad? What is our responsibility to those around us? For many of us, the most visible result of Dad’s influence is CSI. But we don’t have to create a CSI to be a hero. Dad showed us how to be heroes.

  • He knew Jesus, and he let people know it. He taught his children.
  • He constantly learned and prepared for the next thing even when he didn’t know exactly what that would be.
  • He cared about people, and he showed kindness and compassion.
  • He reached out. He didn’t always know what to say, but he said something. He constantly met new people, and he kept in touch with his friends.
  • He had heroes, and he learned about them. He was inspired by them.
  • He was always prepared to sacrifice. He risked the status quo, because he knew that it wouldn’t remain. He didn’t feel sorry for himself when things didn’t go right.
  • He was a giver to his church and numerous other causes and organizations. He began giving when he had little to give. He taught us to give.
  • He was an encourager. I’m a very blessed person, and after the gift of salvation, the greatest blessing of my life has been the encouragement of my parents. So it is an honor for me to tell you that I have no greater admiration for any human than my dad.

Jim Cook is an American Hero. And Dad would suggest that he didn’t do anything special.

Everything he did, we can do.