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A Small Gift From the Heart Counts Big in Independence Restoration
from the Kansas City Star

By JOE ROBERTSON - The Kansas City Star
Date: 07/02/01 22:26

Most people don't know what it means to be Linda Cook, to try to embrace a world with arms impaired by cerebral palsy and see it through eyes clouded by retinitis pigmentosa.

Perhaps that's why so many people have been astonished by her gift to the Independence community.

To her, it was change from her pockets -- $2.40 in pennies and nickels stuffed in a cardboard bank. It was what she could contribute toward the restoration of two old buildings near the town square.

But civic leaders saw it as much more. So much more, that they are putting Linda Cook's name on a planned Wall of Honor, along with the names of wealthier folks who gave $1,000 or more.

"This is pure giving as much as I think you'll ever find," said Paul Thomson, president of the Truman Heartland Community Foundation, which is handling the donations.

Cook, 45, isn't sure why anyone should be so surprised.

"I like to give," she said.

Because of her disability, it's hard for Cook to say more. But her mother does.

Her daughter, Edith Cook says, has worked all of her life knowing she is dependent on so many others. People with disabilities love their community and their neighbors. They want to help other people, the same as anyone else. Even more so.

"Handicapped people are helped so much," Edith Cook said. "They want to give. It's part of human nature."

Several months ago, Linda Cook listened at home as her parents talked about the campaign to raise money for the historic Truman Memorial Building and the old Palmer Junior High School west of Independence Square. The Memorial Building, built after World War I at 416 W. Maple Ave., will become a community center. Palmer, which is across Pleasant Street, will house a senior center and school offices.

Edith and Howard Cook had gone to school at Palmer, the former Independence High School, during the 1940s. The Independence couple remembered assemblies in the memorial building's auditorium and dramas on its stage.

That's when Linda Cook decided she would begin filling a bank.

She has been on the job more than 24 years at IBS Industries, a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities.

It didn't matter to her that her earnings were small. IBS performs real work, contracted through area businesses, and the businesses pay according to the amount of work done.

But in the same way that a paycheck is still a paycheck, her donation was every bit as much of a donation.

The employees at IBS cherish the same experiences and responsibilities as anyone else, said IBS manager Stanley Shurmantine.

They share food baskets with other employees at Christmas time, he said. They take pride in their work. They budget their paychecks.

"It's part of an overall lifestyle," he said. "It's important to them."

As a sum of cash, the $2.40 won't go far toward the $2.6 million that city and civic organizations are raising privately to complete the $7.5 million project.

Promoters have spent a lot of energy soliciting the larger gifts -- like the $10,000 to $250,000 that could get a giver's name on a room in one of the buildings, or the $1,000 needed for the Wall of Honor.

"But if every citizen put pennies in the bank the way Linda did, we'd have the money raised," said Bob Belote, director of parks and recreation in Independence.

And Linda Cook isn't finished.

When she gave her filled bank to Thomson last month, he said, she wanted it back so she could begin filling it again.

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Date last modified August 1, 2001