Bill Cooper says he’s retiring while he can enjoy it

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Bill Cooper recalled Thursday that his mother used to have a needlepoint pillow bearing the words, “After 40, it’s patch, patch, patch.”

“Forty sometimes becomes 50, but this year, I’ve had a lot of patches,” said Cooper, 64, who is retiring after a 35-year career with S&T Bank. “I want to retire while I have the health to enjoy it.”

Having undergone quadruple bypass surgery in July 2008, he said, “That gets your attention.”

His last day at the bank, where he serves as regional vice-president for commercial lending, is Monday.

The Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce held a mixer Thursday to honor Cooper’s career and contributions, which first began when he came to Punxsy Oct. 25, 1975, as the assistant branch manager for the Farmers & Miners branch of S&T Bank, formerly located where McDonald’s stands today.

While he is a Pittsburgh native, Cooper’s mother and grandparents were from the Punxsy area. With that in mind, Cooper’s name came up when S&T Bank was seeking someone to fill a commercial lending position in Punxsy.

Prior to that, however, Cooper was on a different career path all together. In 1969, he graduated from Thiel College in Greenville, Mercer County — where he met his wife of 39 years, Joyce — with a degree in psychology, but, acknowledging that he never saw himself as a banker, took accounting courses at Point Park University in Pittsburgh until coming to Punxsutawney.

Cooper said the delivery of banking services has changed dramatically since he first started. Automated teller machines were considered years in the future, and these days, many people don’t even need to visit their banks anymore, since so many transactions are handled online, he said.

“When I showed up, we used yellow tissue carbon and typed every letter into forms,” he said.

“Fifteen years ago, they were saying that bricks and mortars are going away, but the uses of the branches increased,” he said. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen the decline: People don’t need to visit the bank anymore.”

Over the years, Cooper has served on the Punxsutawney Area Hospital Board of Directors, serving as chairman about four times, as well as the Jefferson County Development Council; the Punxsutawney Regional Development Corporation; president of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce board; and the county municipal, hospital and industrial authorities.

One of the first groups with which Cooper became involved was the Doctor Procurement Committee, created to attract new physicians to town. When Cooper and his family first came to town, Punxsy was in the process of losing a generation of physicians and wasn’t seeing an influx of new ones, he said.

Not only did the Doctor Procurement Committee attract new physicians to the area, it also formed a community-based medical practice, Punxsutawney Medical Associates Inc., which still exists today.

Among the physicians who came to Punxsy at the group’s beckoning were Dr. Joseph Kernich and Dr. Jay Elder, who both still work at Punxsutawney Medical Associates Inc.

“Punxsy’s best natural resources are its people,” Cooper said. “It’s been good to have people call (about your kids). Those kinds of eyes and reporting are good. People have been the real resources that we appreciate the most.”

The Coopers have three children — J.T., in Virginia, and Will and Emilie, both in Pittsburgh — as well as two grandsons, Liam, three, and Neil, one.

Outside his professional life, Cooper has been associated with the Groundhog Club Inner Circle for 24 years and served 10 years as president, succeeding Bud Dunkel. He has been known for his annual reminder to thousands of fans at Groundhog Day who may be upset with Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostications of six more weeks of winter: “He is only the messenger.”

Likewise, S&T has featured Cooper in its Groundhog Day advertising, showing Cooper looking to Punxsy Phil for his annual forecast.

“It’s fine,” he said about the ad. “S&T basically told me when I came here, they wanted me to be involved in the community, and basically supported it.”

With Cooper’s retirement, however, he said the ad has likely seen its last run.

“They asked about it (the ad) for this year, and I said, ‘I can’t do that,’” he said.

Recently, Bill and Joyce moved from their home into a house — three-tenths of a mile down the road — on five acres of land built by his grandparents on property that was originally a hunting camp and housed the Punxsy Literary & Pasteboard Society — basically a group of men who played cards, he said.

Cooper is the third generation of his family to live in the house.

“We’re Punxsy residents until we die,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed my 35 years immensely,” Cooper said. “Did I expect to come here? Probably not, but I have no regrets whatsoever. It’s been a good experience to work with good people, and a good opportunity to contribute to the town we live in.”

Cooper said he plans to remain active with the community groups with which he is involved, adding that in his retirement, he will have “more time to help with groundhog things.”