As the historian and archivist of IWPA, I enjoy researching, discovering and writing about the women who have made contributions to the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Writing about those who have long passed away and left us a trail of historical facts often provides me with imprints of their personalities and vision. It is not only their vision for the Association as much as it has been a vision of their own lives. Each woman I have researched has been so much more than what journals, archives and data tell me.
On May 16, as IWPA celebrated its 130th year anniversary, I was asked to speak about someone who has a long and valued history within IWPA but is very much alive; a woman who has left a major impact on this organization. The task, at first, seemed daunting because in my heart I knew it would be impossible for me to explain how much Marlene Cook has contributed to IWPA. As historian, I can look up facts and figures, provide you with titles and stories, but none of that would adequately describe Marlene and her influence within IWPA’s history pages.
In 1973, Marlene Cook became a member of IWPA. Since that time, she has held every office, except treasurer. She was honored as its Communicator of Achievement (the highest honor presented by IWPA) in 1982 and selected a second time in 1998. She was elected president for two terms, from 1983-1987. Under her leadership the Association experienced a revitalized surge of participation with bi-monthly meetings and programs of the highest quality. 1985 brought the National Federation of Press Women annual conference to Chicago where Marlene served as the director of both the conference hosted by IWPA and also as the director of the 100th IWPA Anniversary Celebration held in conjunction with the festivities. She served as historian to both IWPA and NFPW. Remarkably, she has attended 37 of the past 38 national conferences.
Marlene started writing after her children were in grade school. As Marlene remembers it, she had been bullied by a high school division teacher who told her she’d never amount to anything. That teacher told her she’d be barefoot and pregnant with a household full of kids.
Marlene did indeed end up with a house full of children after graduating high school and marrying her sweetheart, Hank. More determined than ever before, at the age of 30, she vowed that teacher wasn’t going to be right. Marlene went back to school attending Thornton Community College, Calumet College and Northern Illinois University. She earned herself a job as a journalist in a local paper and she never looked back.
She’s written and worked for Star Newspapers, The Southtown Economist, Chicago Tribune and a number of smaller community papers. She was Community Relations Director for the Village of Dolton and was Director of the Dolton Chamber of Commerce. Marlene wrote for South Holland’s monthly village newsletter from 1993 until 2006.
Today, she is editor of the First Focus, her church’s monthly magazine and Village Voice, Lansing, Illinois’ quarterly newsletter. She also continues to write a newsletter for her 1952 class of Fenger High School.
It was a great personal pleasure to be asked to present Marlene with IWPA’s “Life Time Member Award” at the 74th Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest Award Luncheon. This award recognizes notable service to IWPA and tenure of membership of no less than 25 years. More importantly, Marlene is and has remained a mentor, friend and guardian angel to many within the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her sacrifice, personal contributions and “never say no” attitude have made her someone we have come to admire. Marlene Cook is someone we love.