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Pioneering educator remembered as passionate
Neloweze Cooper, a pioneer educator and civil rights activist in Liberty County, died Sept. 5 at the age of 100. - photo by Screenshot from video

Some call her “colossal.” Others say “passionate” and “dynamic.” She’s been called one of the best mothers ever, with a selfless heart for others.

Neloweze Cooper died Sept. 5 of natural causes. She was born on Nov. 23, 1914, and she died after a full life at the age of 100.

She was preceded in death by her husband Evans Benjamin Cooper — for whom E.B. Cooper Highway is named. They met in college — Georgia State College for Colored Youth, now Savannah State University — and married in 1938.

The legacy she leaves behind is one of enthusiasm and passion for education, her community and an inner beauty that shone.

Her son Modibo Kadalie said that he was very lucky when it came to mothers.

“This woman was the most beautiful woman I had ever known,” he said. “I was never able to look in a magazine and think that those women were more beautiful than my mother.”

He described a particular dress she wore that was pleated with different shades of brown.

“Of all of those pleats around her dress, this one particular pleat just picked up her skin color just right. She just melted into that dress. When she was in public, I was very proud,” he said.

Daughter Denise Cooper said her mother was always concerned about her children and their welfare. Mrs. Cooper wouldn’t wait to hear a concern from her children. She was proactive and would often provide what was needed before they asked.

A passion for education

Cooper also said her mother was selfless, especially when it came to education. If Mrs. Cooper heard of parents needing assistance sending their children to school, she would help. Her focus wasn’t on money, but on children being educated.

Mrs. Cooper worked with her husband at Liberty County Training School in 1938. He was the principal, and she was a teacher. She went back to Savannah State to continue her own education and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in library science from Atlanta University. She was the first educator in Liberty County to have a master’s in library science. Mrs. Cooper served as librarian at Riceboro Elementary School and Bradwell Elementary School.

Gregory Gordon is one of many students who benefited from being taught by Mrs. Cooper. Gordon was a neighbor and attended Riceboro Elementary. Mary Baggs taught Gordon how to read, but Mrs. Cooper showed him and other students how to use the library.

Mrs. Cooper was passionate about books, which pushed Gordon to develop his own love of books. He said books are a part of him because of Mrs. Cooper.

His interaction with Mrs. Cooper didn’t stop at Riceboro Elementary. She was the librarian at Liberty County High School from 1968 to 1972 and at Savannah State from 1972-78. Gordon attended Liberty High and Savannah State while Mrs. Cooper worked at both schools.

“So she was actually there for all my formative years and right into my college years as someone who was there guiding me from afar,” Gordon said. “She was very dynamic and passionate about books and what it could mean to an individual’s life.”

Gordon said it’s overwhelming what she’s done for the thousands of residents in Liberty and Chatham counties.

“To me, there’s an old adage, ‘You rest, you rust.’ I look at Mrs. Cooper and see someone who’s never rested and certainly could have,” Gordon said.


Retirement didn’t stop Mrs. Cooper. She continued to remain active and founded the Riceboro Preschool Learning Center.

Former Riceboro Mayor John D. McIver said Mrs. Cooper motivated him to run for mayor. She was a visionary for the City Council and cared deeply for her community. Mrs. Cooper initiated a survey asking Riceboro residents what they need in the community. The answer was a day-care facility. She used her own resources, completed the application and started the learning center.

Cooper said that not only did her mother assist parents financially in sending their children to school but also provided transportation. Mrs. Cooper got a bus and provided a way for parents who didn’t have a vehicle to bring their children to school.

“Some families were low income, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t in it for the money,” Cooper said. “She was in it for the child getting a head start on their education.”

Children who left her school went on into the public-school system and ranked at the top of their class. Cooper said that the school system was proud of her teaching ability.

“They knew that if a teacher got a Mrs. Cooper child from her preschool, they didn’t have to do a lot prepping,” Cooper said.

Mrs. Cooper looked at all children individually to evaluate their learning level and worked to enhance their abilities.   

The center later moved to Midway. She retired from working at the center at age 95. The name of the school was changed to Alice & Mary Wonderland Preschool by the new owners. A mural of Mrs. Cooper remains on the side of the building.  

A local activist

Mrs. Cooper was dedicated to her community. She and her husband were charter members of the Liberty County NACCP chapter, which championed the desegregation of the county’s public schools. The chapter also started district voting for the election of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, along with the state General Assembly. Mrs. Cooper helped form the East Liberty County Organization. McIver said that the organization helped bring important programs into Riceboro.

Kadalie said his parents lived on the same road all of their lives. They lived in different houses but found Riceboro to be a place that they loved. The
Coopers stayed to help nurture the community around them.

Still sharp

Mrs. Cooper remained as sharp as ever in her later years.

“Science says that the 100-year-old mind can be just as vital as the 25-year-old mind. Mrs. Cooper is the best example of that,” Gordon said.

Cooper enjoyed her mother’s latter years because she developed a sense of humor.

“It wasn’t planned. You would say something and then she would say something, and it was totally hilarious. I said to her, ‘Where did all this come from? You weren’t this funny when you were younger,’” Cooper said. “She said, ‘I don’t know, I just say what’s on my mind.’ Then I said, ‘Well, what’s on your mind is really funny.’”

Neighbor and close friend Lillie Roberts grew up next door to the Coopers and worked at the preschool. Roberts assisted Mrs. Cooper for the last two years.

“When she had the last stroke in April, she had to have more help, but her mind was sharp until the end,” Roberts said.

Mrs. Cooper wanted to stay aware of what was happening in the community, and they would often discuss it. One of their favorite pastimes was watching the geese come onto her property and eat from the bird feeder. They called it “bird run” and would sit back and try to figure out which ones were male and female.

“We would have that conversation while looking at the feathers. We would do that and laugh about it,” Roberts said.

Favorite memories

Gordon admired how Mrs. Cooper treated others.

“She always treated people with such accommodation, in such a way that you felt she was genuinely interested in you and that you were the most interesting person she had met,” he said. “It really taught me to embrace people in a positive way, understanding that negativity shouldn’t be a part of it.”

Mrs. Cooper taught McIver about motivation, being energetic and staying community oriented.

Mrs. Cooper leaves behind her four children, 10 grandchildren, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends. The funeral took place at First Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where she was a member.

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