A member of the Cleburne High School Class of 1953, known then and now for her kind and helpful ways, is being honored as the Coming Home Queen by the CHS Ex-Students Association.
“When I learned the Ex-Students Association was asking for nominations for CHS Coming Home Queen, I knew immediately who I wanted to nominate,” Betty Browder Lee said. “Carol was a senior when I was a sophomore. I met her the year they had eighth graders attending the high school while the new junior high was being built.”
“She seemed to know how lost we felt,” Lee said. “Since her younger brother, Lonnie, was also in our class, she may have felt more ‘tuned in’ to us than most of the students in the upper grades—but ‘tuned in’ she was. She always had a smile and a hello for us, and I admired her from afar as she was also quite popular and very involved in school activities.”
In her senior year at CHS, Cooper was chosen as Best All Around Girl, Band Sweetheart and she was elected class secretary. She spent two years as a Yellow Jacket Cheerleader and was honored as Class Favorite in her junior year.
“The Class of 1953 was the first required to go to school for 12 years,” Cooper said. “In order to do that, we were sent over to the high school in the eighth grade. All our classes were in the basement.”
She remembers starting school in 1941, which is the same year Yellow Jacket Stadium opened for its first football season. Living nearly next door to the stadium, she watched it rise from a foundation built on a donated cow pasture, and grew up with the sounds and excitement of Friday Night Lights.
“We had season football tickets for more than 50 years,” she said. “In high school, I had a convertible and everyone wanted to sit in my car after school to watch football practice at Rhome Field.”
A proud advocate of the CHS House System, Cooper was a member of Barton House — and grateful for it.
“Barton was the girls house that was located on the first floor of the high school,” she said. “That was fortunate, as I think I would have been counted tardy every day of high school if I had to go upstairs to get to one of the other girls houses. I was always one step ahead of the tardy bell in getting to first period, thanks to being on the first floor.”
Cooper has spent all but four of her 85 years of life in Cleburne, although she was born in Ennis. Those four years reflect her time away from home, attending college. Following graduation, in which she finished fourth in her class, Cooper enrolled at The University of Texas, where she spent her first two years. She finished at Texas Christian University, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree, and a double major in business and education. She did her student teaching in shorthand and typing — at CHS.
She would put her college degree to work as an employee at Rangaire, followed by 33 years with National Yellow Pages.
Cooper has also raised two more generations of Yellow Jackets, beginning with her daughter Holly Hanks Kelley and son Kelly Hanks. Four of her grandchildren, Kirk, Kyle, Ross and Reid Kelley, are also Cleburne graduates. Cooper’s extended family includes four step-children, a total of 16 grandchildren/step-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Her Yellow Jacket Pride includes the 25 years her daughter, Holly, served on the Career and Technical Education faculty at CHS, teaching and guiding future educators and students entering the workplace following graduation. She retired in May.
“I loved growing up in Cleburne,” Cooper said. “I love this town and always have. As a student at Cleburne High School, I loved the camaraderie we shared. After graduation, I got 19 of the girls together at Christmas every year for 20 years, even the year I came home from the hospital on Christmas Day with my first baby.
“I went on to plan at least six of the reunions for the Class of 1953, I think because of that experience, I was asked to plan 50-year reunions for the ’51, ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’57 classes. I think I have decorated every available facility in Cleburne in black and gold at some point.”
Lee, who wanted to see one more CHS accolade for a fellow Yellow Jacket she has always admired, credits Cooper for being the “connector” in bringing people together.
“Just as she took an interest in those of us who were new eighth graders, Carol is well known as a ‘connector’ for citizens new to the community,” Lee said. “She is a faithful member of Cleburne Bible Church where she has organized and coordinated a ministry for women, reaching out to new members and connecting them with fellow members.
“She has served as secretary for the Cleburne Christian Business Club for many years, providing a welcoming face at the community Holy Week services and the annual Cleburne Christian Leadership Prayer Breakfast. She is a true ambassador for our high school, our city and our state.”