By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, April 11, 2019 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society tries to preserve and present local history in many different ways. It’s found a new way to do so this Friday, April 12, when the organization hosts one of its monthly meetings here in the town of Cooper (pop. 30, maybe).
The organization will be introducing Cooper Hubbell, 35, of Des Moines, to his great-great-great-grandfather Isaac Cooper. Sort of.
Isaac Cooper, who died in 1902, was a pioneering business leader of Des Moines, and this town is named after him.
“I was not familiar with this story until I heard from you about it,” said Hubbell in a phone interview, when he was confirming his attendance. “I’m really looking forward to learning about this part of my heritage.”
And the Franklin Township Board of Trustees, who govern the greater Cooper area, plan to name young Hubbell an “Honorary Mayor of Cooper” — an honor he’ll share with about seven others who’ve been recognized this way over the years.
Friday’s featured program, at the Cooper United Methodist Church, is going to have Dennis Peer, a native son of Cooper who taught theater for 38 years before retiring at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, costuming up and portraying Isaac Cooper. He will speak in-character about life during Iowa’s settlement in the mid 19th century. He’ll undoubtedly talk about how his son-in-law Frederick M. Hubbell, another early business leader in this state, in 1880 was developing a railroad from Des Moines to the Iowa Great Lakes. In 1881, he founded the town of Cooper as a passenger & freight stop, and named it in tribute to his father-in-law.
Peer plans to stay in-character as he shares some history and current-day observations about the town. You can read more about the program, and about Peer, in another story on this website by clicking here.
Now let’s meet Cooper Hubbell.
He is the son of Mike and Debbie Hubbell, of Des Moines. The dad is formally Michael Cooper Hubbell, but goes by “Mike.” The son is actually Michael Cooper Hubbell Jr., but he has always gone by “Cooper.”
He said that Cooper has been a frequently-given middle name in the generations of Hubbells. In fact, if I’m reading family history correctly, Frederick M. Hubbell and his wife Frances E. Cooper Hubbell had three children, sons Frederick and Grover and daughter Beulah, and they gave all three “Cooper” as their middle names.
If you’ve been around Iowa very long, you are familiar with the Hubbell family and all the leadership it has provided in business, philanthropy and public affairs. Cooper’s uncle Fred Hubbell was the Democratic candidate for governor of Iowa in 2018.
How does Cooper feel, being part of that lineage?
“It’s really a big honor to be a part of it, and to see how much my family has been part of Des Moines,” he said. “It’s also very humbling, and gives me a sense of civic duty, too.”
Cooper Hubbell, who has his own information technology consulting company Hubbell IT, graduated from Des Moines Roosevelt High School, where he started dating the woman who is now his wife, Dr. Alexandra Hubbell, a family practice physician at UnityPoint Health’s East Des Moines Clinic.
Cooper started college in Colorado, but didn’t like the separation from Alexandra, who was going to Washington University in St. Louis. He transferred to St. Louis University, they dated through their undergraduate years, and then Alexandra came home to complete her medical studies Des Moines University.
They have two sons, Harry, 6, and Max, 2.
Interestingly, Cooper Hubbell never worked for any of the family’s companies, which have included Equitable of Iowa Insurance Company, the old Younkers Department Stores, Hubbell Realty and various development companies.
“My field has always been ‘IT,’ a personal interest going back to when I was a young kid, tearing apart old computers in my parents’ basement, trying to see how they worked,” he said. “I’m still doing that, actually!”
In his mid-20s, he interviewed with Hubbell Realty for an IT job, but opted instead to join another IT company. That had him doing consulting with companies from Storm Lake to Audubon, Marshalltown, Centerville and towns in between, so he saw a good bit of Iowa.
He saw lots more of the state in a very unusual way.
“My dad has been an amateur airplane pilot for 25 years,” Cooper said. “A couple years ago, he set a goal of doing a touch-down at every airport in Iowa — every single airport — and he did it! In fact, he’s now starting to do the list again, in reverse order. I went on some of those flights with him, and so I saw a lot of Iowa — from above.”
When his second son was born two years ago, Cooper decided he wanted to reduce his business travel, and that’s when he decided to start up his own IT company. He operates it from home, which allows him to keep a close eye on the boys.
He has also rekindled an interest in music he had as a young boy.
“I’ve played piano from boyhood, but then not at all from about 10 years old to probably 30,” he said. “I went through that period where I got ‘too cool’ for that, you know? Now I’ve gotten back into it, and I really enjoy playing piano, improvising and experimenting with chords. That’s led me to start doing some composing and arranging, doing all my own instrumentation. It gives me a way to use my hands and my brain — and all this computer equipment I have. I’m doing a little recording and I’ve started to have a little success with some independent recording companies.”
Any interest in politics?
“Yes,” Cooper said. “When Uncle Fred ran for governor, that really got me energized in the Democratic Party. It made me pay a lot more attention. And I realized it pays to pay attention.”
He enjoyed hearing stories about a couple of fun ties that the Hubbell family had to the town of Cooper over the last 40 years.
In 1981, Cooper made international news by naming NBC-TV “Tonight Show” host (and Iowa native) Johnny Carson the honorary 51st citizen of the town during its centennial celebration. Carson had three Cooperites come to California to appear on his show, and he spent 17 minutes in a hilarious chat with them. That led to more than 12,500 people attending the one-day celebration on July 11. The grand marshals of the two-hour parade were Fred and Charlotte Hubbell. They were honored not only because of Fred’s ties to Isaac Cooper. More notably, the couple had recently returned home safely after being victims of an airplane hijacking in Pakistan when they were on an around-the-world trip celebrating their honeymoon. Their story was widely reported in the news then.
In 2006, Cooper was celebrating its quasquicentennial, and community leaders jumped at the chance to book the Iowa State Fair Singers & Jazz Band to perform — becoming the smallest town ever to host a concert by the group of high school all-stars who toured the state during the summertime. But the cost for hosting the group was $3,800, and the town could only come up with $800. An appeal was made to Fred Hubbell and his older brother Jamie Hubbell. Jamie publicly committed to contributing $1,500, but only if Fred would match his donation.
He did, and everybody in Cooper, Iowa, had a great time!
Chuck Offenburger, who wrote this story, lives outside Cooper and is on the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society. You can write him by email at chuck@Offenburger.com.