ST. PETER — Like other funerals, Judy Cooper’s had prayers, music and tears.
Like other funerals of well-loved people who died too young, Judy Cooper’s filled the church in St. Peter Saturday afternoon.
Like other funerals, it ended with the deceased belting out — Ethel Merman-style — “There’s No Business Like Show Business ... ”
OK, maybe that last element doesn’t happen so often.
But neither does a soul like Cooper’s, according to the people who told stories at a funeral that strived to be as unusual, as silly, as full of joy and as uncommon as the 60-year-old woman who died Thursday after a decade-long struggle with cancer.
Although the St. Paul native didn’t arrive in St. Peter until she was more than halfway through her life, Cooper didn’t waste time getting noticed or making a mark through song, conservation and work at the St. Peter Food Co-op.
“She blew into town and she blew our minds,” said Marcie Stoyke, who now lives in Duluth.
Cooper was probably most widely known as “Pinky Jean” in the East Side Pharaohs, an area band that supplies a mix of humor and ’50s and ’60s rock songs.
Bob Idso of St. Peter, speaking during a story-telling portion of the funeral, saw Cooper’s entry into show business back around 1983. Following a political meeting, Idso, Cooper and others went to a Kasota bar and listened to the band performing.
“Judy said, ‘These guys need a girl singer,’” Idso explained. “She went off and talked to these guys, and the next time I saw her she was ‘Pinky Jean the Dancing Queen’.”
Members of the band were at the front of the Holy Communion Episcopal Church Saturday, playing Loudon Wainwright’s “The Swimming Song,” one of Cooper’s favorites. And the entire crowd joined in a loud rendition of The Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Along with music, Cooper provided service during her 25 years in St. Peter. She was a longtime member of the boards of directors of Save the Kasota Prairie and the Co-op, where she worked in a variety of jobs. She was also instrumental in bringing a recycling program to St. Peter.
“Judy reminded us over and over that we can, too, make a difference,” Stoyke said.
Mainly, though, she brought attitude, according to the people who spoke.
“She was passionate about life, like one is passionate about a lover,” Stoyke said.
She was equally fervent about having fun, said Margo O’Brien, the general manager at the co-op.
“The most unique sense of humor that I’ve ever encountered,” O’Brien said. “... She was vibrant, she was funny, she was so totally unique, she was loving ... ”
And she was tough, particularly in the fight against cancer, agreeing to try numerous rounds of chemotherapy and experimental treatments, said O’Brien, who is confident that medical science was advanced by Cooper’s willingness to undergo sometimes painful therapies.
“She was fearless when it came to that,” O’Brien said.
Marilyn Frank of Mankato told of asking Cooper this spring if she’d like to go to the Kato Ballroom where a Buddy Holly impersonator was performing. Cooper was in the final stages of her fight with multiple myelomas, but she accepted the invitation.
“I thought, ‘Well, if we’re there for a half an hour, that will be nice,’” Frank said. “Not with Judy. We were there until it closed.”
And when the Buddy Holly band took a break, Cooper took the stage. Before long, everyone was dancing and laughing. After getting warmed up, she took off her hat and tossed it aside with a message for the crowd: “I’m bald, get over it.”
“The crowd loved her,” Frank said.
Cooper undoubtedly loved the crowd back, according to O’Brien.
“She was a show-off,” O’Brien said. “She really loved to hog the lime-light if she could.”
She did that one last time Saturday, shortly before her friends moved to the funeral dinner with the Cooper-selected menu of meatloaf, potatoes, green-bean casserole and red velvet cake.
The song was recorded a few weeks ago when Cooper knew the funeral wasn’t far away. When the tune was blasted through St. Peter’s most historic church, Cooper — and Ethel Merman — were brought back to life.
With Cooper enthusiastically belting out “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” for a verse she didn’t remember, the church was full of laughter and smiles — right up to her final words: “Let’s go on with the show! Let’s go on with the show!”
And the crowd broke into exuberant applause.
Active community member Judy Cooper remembered for her attitude
ST. PETER — Like other funerals, Judy Cooper’s had prayers, music and tears.
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