Darrin Cook, a husband and father, was a pillar in his community and at the age of 57-years-old, he passed away on August 31 of complications from COVID.
Of his acts of service to the community, he helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to fight diabetes, assisted baseball teams in the College World Series, and even suited up as Santa every Christmas for a Special Olympics bowling outing.
“He’s done so much for the community,” said wife, Michelle Cook, of 31 years. “And (he had) such a big heart. He gave so much of his time out of work.”
A cause close to his heart, she said, was the nonprofit I-80 Cosmopolitan Club and its focus on fighting diabetes, particularly juvenile diabetes.
Michelle recalled many times her husband informed her how he would gladly trade places with diabetic children and deal with the disease himself. She said he would tell her, “If I could give them some kind of normal life, I’d trade places with them in a heartbeat.”
Bill Kiefer, a fellow club member, said it was Darrin who came up with the idea of securing corporate sponsors for the club’s annual casino fundraiser and raised more than $50,000 in the past few years. In addition, he also rounded up items for a silent auction, worked with a local restaurant to donate food for the event in early March and organized a calling party to reach past attendees, which increased attendance.
And when he wasn’t doing the aforementioned, he was lining up trucks to haul equipment for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s annual walk and also helped with an annual hot dog roast at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch for diabetic children and their families.
The club has also served for years as a host for baseball teams visiting Omaha for the CWS. In addition, Darrin helped secure a truck to haul the gear belonging to the club’s designated team from the airport to their hotel.
Just a few years back, Kiefer said the club’s designated team was in the final game. The coach had told the players to give the practice balls to kids at the stadium, but the game was canceled for the day due to bad weather. The players had done such a good job of giving away balls that they had nothing to use for batting practice the next day.
“They called Darrin. He reached out to The Strike Zone and arranged to get balls to the team in a real rush so they could practice,” Kiefer wrote in an email.
And every Christmas, Cook would dress up as Santa each year for a Special Olympics event at Maplewood Lanes. Michelle said the kids couldn’t wait to see Santa every year and would give him a big hug and have their picture taken with him. They would also request Santa to bowl for them in hopes that he would bowl a strike.
“I’m trying to figure out how to carry on his legacy,” she said, “but those are big shoes to fill.”
Darrin grew up in Atlantic, Iowa, graduated from Atlantic High School in 1981 and later moved to the Omaha area. He and Michelle met Aug. 19, 1988, and married Oct. 21, 1988.
The couple had four children: Tyler and Garrett Cook and Nicole Thapa, all of Omaha, and Michael Cook of Minneapolis. They also have three grandchildren.
While Michelle Cook is not confident how her husband contracted COVID-19 or why it hit him so hard — she does know that he had no underlying health conditions and took no medications.
He was home for nine days with the virus, with a high fever and other symptoms. On the same day, she took him to an emergency room — where then he was transferred to another hospital, where he was put on oxygen and then a ventilator. And due to the visitor restrictions, she was not allowed to see him after he was transferred. She talked to him by phone and then by text. But she was pained by their separation.
“I felt so cheated I didn’t get to be with him,” she said. “That is probably the worst thing ever, and I know he felt it, too.”
After his death, she discovered one last text on his phone that he hadn’t sent: “Tell the kids I love them, and I love you, too.”
Michelle did not publish an obituary in Omaha as she was worried too many would attend the visitation. But as word spread of his death, people cam in droves to pay respect.
“More people need to be loving and giving and show compassion and help one another,” she said. “That’s what Darrin did.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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