A loss becomes a legacy

Celebrating the life of Agnes Stephanson Cooke

Agnes Cooke standing with student participants of the Stephanson Cooke Interprofessional Learning Event.

Agnes Cooke in early 2020 with student participants of the Stephanson Cooke Interprofessional Learning Event.

Mount Royal lost one of its treasured community members with the passing of Agnes Stephanson Cooke in late April.

Born in Elfros, SK, on Nov. 3, 1924, it seemed inevitable that Agnes would devote her life to serving the community. While still in the womb, her older sister (only two years old at the time), developed pneumonia and was on the verge of dying. A young student nurse, also named Agnes, helped her sister survive, and so Agnes Stephanson was named in the nurse’s honour.

In 1943, Agnes graduated from Elfros School and completed one year of Household Science at the University of Saskatchewan. She then entered the School of Nursing at the Saskatoon City Hospital in 1944, graduating as a Registered Nurse in 1947.

In 1950, Agnes married Don Cooke, a geologist, and a few years later they settled in Calgary. They had three children: Bill, Cathy and Barb. Sadly, in October 2003, Don passed away, and in May 2019, Agnes’ daughter Cathy passed away. Agnes had seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

From volunteering in a tuberculosis clinic at age 14 to eventually creating the Stephanson Cooke Family Foundation, Agnes made extraordinary contributions throughout her life to her family and community. The Stephanson Cooke Family Foundation allowed Agnes to become a strong advocate for post-secondary education, especially for students of underrepresented groups. She supported students across the prairies by creating awards in her family members’ names at Mount Royal University, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Manitoba and many more institutions.

At MRU she created two bursaries, one for nursing students and one for midwifery students with a preference to be awarded to Indigenous students. These two endowments made the awards available to students in perpetuity, allowing her to have an impact on students for generations to come.

She also supported the Stephanson Cooke Gallery in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts and was a well-known figure in the Faculty of Health, Community and Education.

Since 2013, Agnes has funded the annual student-led Stephanson Cooke Interprofessional Event. Drawing students from across all health, community and education disciplines, including athletic therapy, child studies, ecotourism and outdoor leadership, elementary education, midwifery, nursing, physical literacy, social work and sport and recreation management, the event helps students develop leadership skills, knowledge and interprofessional competencies, preparing them for lifelong success in their careers and contributing to healthy communities.

Her generosity and care of others endured right until the end of her life. Prior to her passing, Agnes initiated discussions about creating another student award in nursing focused on supporting Black students at MRU. Though she was not able to see her request approved, it came just a day before her passing. An anonymous donor has provided the funds to fulfill her wish and establish the Agnes Cooke Memorial Bursary in Nursing which will benefit a Black nursing student — a fitting tribute for someone so devoted to helping those who are a part of underrepresented groups.

Agnes’ presence was always welcome on campus. Her visits with staff, faculty and students fortunate enough to meet and speak with her will be sorely missed. Agnes’ legacy here at MRU will live on in the countless students who have benefitted from her support yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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June 7, 2021