Martha Patricia (Herz) Cooke, "Patty"
At a glance:
As I look back on my mother’s life, I am humbled by her accomplishments. While she was a traditional wife and mother in many ways, she stepped past her own shyness and took on projects that were not necessarily popular or well-known. Her work on behalf of the mentally ill stands out as does her crusade to save Riverside Drive from private development. She was talented, brave, and inquisitive, but above all, kind.
Patty, as she was known, and her twin, Nancy (Nancy Marie Herz Hedges) joined the growing family of Rudolf and Henrietta Herz on September 30, 1923. They were born in what was called a lying-in hospital in Reno. The twins joined three older brothers, James, Homer, and Robert. Later, the family welcomed a fourth son, Thomas. She was baptized in the First Baptist Church in Reno by Pastor Brewster Adams, a man she describes as “broadminded and before his time.”
The family resided at 1121 West Second Street in Reno until 1925 when they moved to 1019 South Wells Avenue in Reno, then an unpaved country road, which became the family’s permanent residence. She recalled paper dolls, kick-the-can, tag, and horseback riding as favorite childhood pursuits. She said a pony ride “around the block” cost 10 cents. Along with her brother, Robert, she was an avid tennis player.
As a child, I recall my grandparents’ home always being full of my young cousins. We loved exploring her big house and listening to my grandmother play songs for us on her Baby Grand. My mom described her mother as a “wonderful piano player.”
My grandmother’s love of music was passed on to my mom who took voice lessons from a Mrs. Post. My mom had a lovely second soprano voice and often performed for various civic and church affairs. She and her brother Robert, a gifted tenor, and his wife, my Aunt Annette, sang in an opera produced by the State Bar of Nevada.
My mom attended local schools, Southside Elementary School and B.D. Billinghurst Junior High School. She graduated from Reno High School in the class of 1941 and later graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in psychology and sociology. While at the University, she was a member of Delta Delta Delta Sorority and served at president of Campus YWCA. When asked what advice she would give young women today, she said, “Get an education.” Indeed, she fostered that belief in her children and grandchildren, supporting them in their educational endeavors from grade school through college and beyond. When listening to the goings-on in her daughters’ lives, she often smiled and said, “I’m so proud of you girls.”
Throughout her youth and while at the University, she was a salesperson in her father’s jewelry store, the Reno Jewelry Company, located on Virginia Street in downtown Reno. She worked alongside her maternal aunt, Louella Walker, who taught her antique appreciation, and inspired her lifelong interest in antiques and family history and lore. She was forever telling us not to throw out anything or sell it in some garage sale after she’s gone. Even though it might not look like much, it just might be very valuable. Moreover, even if it’s not valuable now, it surely is what she called a “new antique.” She was an avid clipper of articles and saver of all family memorabilia.
Throughout her youth, my mom had a passion for horses. She combined this love with her artistic talents, creating sketches and paintings of horses. When I showed her the pencil drawings I had framed, she told me she didn't think they represented her best work, and she went on to point out flaws. These drawings, signed in a graceful hand by a young artist, “Patricia Herz,” are among my prize possessions.
It was at a University dance that my mom, a freshman, met her future husband, Thomas Arthur Cooke, then an upperclassman. He called her the “very next day.” He was “tall, dark and handsome – very impressive.” When pressed to describe the early attraction for each other, she said, “We just clicked!” They were married on May 29, 1944, at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral, in Reno, Nevada. She went on to complete her University studies while my dad, Ensign Cooke, went off to fight the war in the Pacific.
After the war was over, the young couple resided in San Francisco, where my mom worked at Macy’s in the gift department while my dad attended Hastings College of Law. After my dad’s graduation, they moved back to Reno where they purchased their first home on 800 Novelly Drive where they resided until 1955 when they moved to their new home at 30 Sonora Circle in Reno. She loved the new neighborhood because it was full of young families and close to the soon-to-be-opened Hunter Lake Elementary School.
With four active daughters and a husband with a busy law practice, my mom continued her interest in her friends, the arts, and her community. Her community activities included the Reno YWCA where she served as board president in 1982, the Nevada State Hospital Auxiliary where she served as a board officer, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Washoe County Bar Association (also known then as Lawyers’ Wives), the American Association of University Women, and the Monday Club. She was a “room mother” who helped organize school parties for her children’s classes, and a Brownie Girl Scout leader. In 1950 my mom and her cherished school chums formed the Sewing Club, still meeting monthly, at first to “get out of the house and leave the kids with the husbands,” but as the years went by, to have lunch and share memories and pictures of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She and my dad shared a love of politics, hosting and attending local, statewide, and national Democratic Party gatherings and conventions. Their home was a center for many lively political discussions, and my parents often hosted candidates seeking office. All of us children and our friends were encouraged to join in and expected to support our views – something we were used to doing, but an exhilarating surprise for guests.
When I asked my mom what her most important civic contribution had been, she said, “Saving Riverside Drive.” She was a founding member and the first president of the original Truckee Meadows Tomorrow, a nonprofit organized to ensure that Riverside Drive remain open to the public. She, along with the other members, convinced City officials to leave the drive open rather than donate land to private interests, thereby keeping the beautiful and historic drive accessible for all to enjoy. She enjoyed taking a drive along the river, and she reminisced about the struggle to save it. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said every time we visited.
Her interest in art broadened to include needle work, crochet, pine needle basket weaving, sculpture, and crafting. She created ornaments for each season for her party guests. She was a regular contributor of handmade decorations to the Marce Herz Christmas Festival at the YWCA. My mom and the Sonora Circle Neighbors decorated the circle each Christmas, once receiving a prize for their decorations in the Reno Evening Gazette and Nevada State Journal annual outdoor decorating contest. At Christmas time, she would set up a room, complete with makings for homemade decorations, and invite the neighborhood children to make ornaments. Her own creations and afghans adorn her grandchildren’s beds and her daughters’ Christmas trees and mantles. To this day, my holiday guests and their children all want to see “the ornaments your mom made.”
As a hostess, my mom was famous for her lively dinner parties where guests played games she had organized. Poker and bridge were weekly events. She belonged to several bridge groups. A savvy card player, she was always trying to get enough players together for “a little game of poker,” even willing to “teach” the games to anyone interested so long as a game was at hand. In her “next life” she said she wanted to be an investigative reporter, but then added that she hoped heaven has regular poker games.
Researched and written by her oldest daughter, Carol A. Cooke. Posted to Web site January 2013
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