Chances are if you have attended a Laker athletic or social event during the past six decades you have heard about Ronald “Bud” Cooper. When taking in a Laker basketball game or volleyball match you may have noticed the gymnasium, it has been named in his honor. Bud Cooper’s relationship began when the Soo Branch of Michigan Tech played football at the Sault High field and the Hornets played basketball in the gym that is now the Fletcher Center.
Bud’s heritage and impact lives on, as his family made a $50,000 commitment in support of one of his strongest passions at Lake State; Laker Men’s Basketball. His relentless passion and love for the program was contagious attracting family and friends to participate in the Bud Cooper Classic by donating and volunteering. His brother, Jim was a Laker Hall of Famer as a member of the legendary 1955-56 basketball team that Bud coached. Jim with his boundless energy constructed and hauled the weighty plywood hole-sponsorship signs that were fixtures at the event for over 20 years. It was a full court press by the Cooper family each year organizing the Cooper Classic.
“It was early in my time here that I became aware of Bud Cooper and his legendary history with the Laker Athletic program,” said LSSU President Rod Hanley. “The fact that his family is supporting our men’s basketball program by generously establishing this memorial fund is a remarkable act of philanthropy.”
Over the years, there were several close family friends of the Coopers that also supported Laker Men’s Basketball through the Bud Cooper Golf Classic. Laker Basketball Alumnus and Hall of Famer Ron Sober, his wife Pat and the Sober family did every year. They have also made a long-term commitment to the Bud Cooper Memorial Fund.
“In 1964, Bud was one of the first people that welcomed me to campus as a walk-on basketball player. He had a huge influence on me as a “Soo Hornet” and a “Laker,” said Ron Sober. “I will always be grateful to him for his support that grew into our long friendship. We were pleased to contribute to this fund that will honor Bud and the men’s basketball program.”
Many ardent supporters of Laker Athletics, and close friends of the Cooper family, attended and consistently made donations to the annual Bud Cooper Golf Classic from its inception in the early 1980’s until the year he passed in 2009. The event made a reprisal for several years as well.
That dedication and enthusiasm for LSSU was passed to the second and third generations as his sons and grandsons participated in Laker Athletics.
Similar to the Coopers, three generations of the Kjolhede family were Laker athletes, and two more generations pursued their undergraduate degrees at LSSU. The two families’ patriarchs first met at Central Michigan University in the 1950’s.
Bob Kjolhede was the first to attend and play basketball at Lake State followed by his brother, Jim. Both attended and supported the Cooper Classic over the years. Bob’s daughter, Jamie came to LSSU followed by granddaughter Justice who both played varsity volleyball for the Lakers.
“With the Ripley-Kjolhede-Jones families spanning 5 generations academically and 3 generations athletically, you could say that Laker pride is in our blood,” said Bob Kjolhede. “We all knew and greatly respected Bud. He was the undisputed architect of the winning culture for Laker Athletics. We were and will always be proud to wear the blue & gold.”
As time marches along it brings changes to athletics and the financial aspect of funding competitive programs like Laker Men’s Basketball. One of Bud Cooper’s strengths as Athletic Director was his ability to stretch a dollar. Fundraising was always a key component in supplementing the budget to compete with the larger programs.
While fundraising continues to be an even more integral part of advancing athletics at Lake State, equally so are efficient means of garnering that support. The Cooper family has fully embraced Bud’s philanthropic spirit and recognizes how best to support his appreciation for the Laker men’s basketball program by creating a memorial fund in his name.
“It was a truly family affair for us boys growing up on campus and being gym rats in the old gym. I can remember us helping dad out by doing chores like sweeping the floor,” stated Kevin Cooper ’79 a local dentist and LSSU Outstanding Alumnus Recipient. “As a family no one enjoyed dad’s tourney more than us. We have worked hard in concert with the LSSU Foundation staff and believe we can advance the men’s basketball program more effectively with an annual fundraising approach. Coach Hettinga is an outstanding coach and steward of the program and we are committed to helping him attain his goals. We truly thank our family, friends, and the community of Sault Ste. Marie who have helped support Laker Men’s Basketball, and hope they will join us in supporting the Bud Cooper Memorial Fund.”
“I continued to be humbled by the Coopers’ generosity in support of our program,” said Laker Men’s Basketball Coach Steve Hettinga. “Bud and his family’s positive impact on this university and athletics is something our team always cherishes and respects.”
“Coming into my new role in fundraising at the Foundation it wasn’t long until I became aware of the Cooper Family’s incredible impact on LSSU and its athletic program,” said Andrew Rubinstein, Annual Fund/Athletic Development Director. “I have enjoyed working with Kevin and Craig during my time here and appreciate the support. I am looking forward to working with them to grow the Bud Cooper Memorial Fund.”
Lake Superior State University is one of Michigan’s most affordable public universities with One-Rate at Lake State tuition for all. Surrounded by three Great Lakes, LSSU is an unsurpassed location for research, focusing on real-world experiences. Well known for programs such as fisheries and wildlife management, engineering, nursing, criminal justice, and fire science; Lake State is also leading the way with innovative new programs, including cannabis chemistry, cannabis business and robotics engineering. For more information, visit LSSU.edu.