is reprinted from the Centralia Sentinel
Cooksey, Pearson honored by city
memorialized in street dedication,
remembered fondly by friends and family
by Steven Stilt
CENTRALIA – Countless area residents still carry fond memories of Howard Cooksey and Fred Pearson in their hearts and minds, but the city of Centralia now also bears a visual reminder of two of its most influential personalities.
With Cooksey’s and Pearson’s friends and families gathered around, Centralia Mayor Tom Ashby dedicated Walnut Street as “Howard Cooksey/Fred Pearson Way” in a ceremony held at the intersection of Walnut and West Broadway Saturday morning. Members of each man’s family unveiled the red sign bearing the new name, a fitting tribute for two citizens Ashby described as “a great one-two punch for the youth of Centralia.”
Cooksey, who passed away in 1999, served as longtime director of the Centralia Community Center, where he supervised activities for better than four decades. Pearson, a former standout athlete at Centralia Township High School, worked for 40 years with the city’s recreation department, and Ashby praised both men for their dedication and character.
“Howard taught me invaluable lessons. He knew how to make the best out of life,” the mayor said. “Fred was a role model for each and every young individual in Centralia. He was an inspiration.”
“We’ve been blessed to have these men living and working in our community.”
added Ashby, who also proclaimed April 21 as “Fred Pearson and Howard Cooksey Day” during the ceremony.
A Touching Tribute
Those whose lives were touched by Pearson and Cooksey shared their stories at a luncheon at New Bethel Baptist Church following the dedication ceremony.
Justin Knolhoff serves as president of the Fred Pearson Foundation, a non-profit group established in 2008 to provide financial assistance and equipment to young athletes and sports organizations. He remembered Pearson as an unparalleled mentor for kids growing up in Centralia.
“He taught me a lot of life lessons about how to play sports, but not just playing sports, but playing the right way,” Knolhoff recalled.
In honor of Pearson, who died in 1993, the foundation presented athletic equipment to local children who are signed up to play baseball this year.
“We’re trying to give balls to the kids the same way Fred would have tried to do” Knolhoff explained.
Jerry Cooksey, Howard’s son, said the tandem established “one of the finest recreation programs that the state of Illinois has ever
known.” “For 40 years, wherever Howard was, Fred was right there with him,” Jerry said. “This was one of the finest duos ever to hit this city.”
Even those who weren’t related to Cooksey or Pearson regarded them as family. Gary Boles fought back tears as he recalled the impact Pearson had on his life.
“Growing up as a young man, I considered Fred as a second father,” Boles said. “His guidance and devotion had a great influence on my life…many young men became what they are today because of the influence Fred had on their lives.”
“Fred was like a brother to me,” recalled Delores Wanso of Centralia. “He was an inspiration to all of the youth here in Centralia, he and Mr. Cooksey. I know that they’re looking down from Heaven and smiling down on this celebration.”