Mary Lou Cook is, literally, a Santa Fe Living Treasure, and when you meet her it is impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm for life. Like an organic, down-to-earth Auntie Mame, MLC, as she is known, has more excitement and energy and excitement than most. "It's great fun," she exclaims. "I love my life!"
An author, calligrapher, and community activist, MLC always seems to have two to three businesses going at once. "These are fun things that I have a passion for," she reveals. Currently, she teaches classes on bookmaking, pastecraft, spirit stick, getting organized, use of pendulum, calligraphy, basket making, folk cross stitch, A Course in Miracles, and life skills 101.
At a chipper 84 years old, MLC is an ordained minister and bishop with the Eternal Life Church, and the role is "the pleasure of her life." She supports herself by performing non-traditional weddings and blessings that are more spiritual than religious. "My ceremony offers a belief system of peace, trust, and the universal power of love and forgiveness. We celebrate spirit and remember the importance of grace, laughter, listening to our heart, giving unconditional love, and honoring our connection with nature."
Nature holds a very dear place in MLC's heart, and especially trees. When her husband, Sam, died in 1981, she invited everyone to plant a tree at DeVargas Park. The response was overwhelming, and over the years, many more trees were added. This summer, however, MLC was heartbroken to see that many of the trees had succumb to the drought.
According to Richard Fiedler at the Santa Fe Parks & Recreation Department, they did everything possible save them, including bringing in 2,000-gallon water trucks to cruise the parks. "We tried to keep them alive," he says. "We lost so many all over the city." Depending on whether the drought continues (there are planting restrictions in Stage 3), the department will be accepting donations for new trees next year.
"We can't let the trees die. We can let the grass and the shrubs die, but not the trees." Mary Lou insists. "The trees are for our grandchildren."
Born in Chicago in 1918, MLC moved to Santa Fe 33 years ago. Soon afterwards, a group of investors bought 66 acres in Tesuque. Ads were placed in the paper for a "planned arts community" situated on the old William's Egg Ranch. The ranch had small houses where the eggers had lived, and a long hatchery. Mary Lou chose a small adobe as a workshop, and was the first craftsperson at Shidoni. She remembers this one of the happiest times in her life.
Santa Fe itself is held in high esteem. "It's such a pleasure to find a city that is flexible and welcoming to creative people who think outside the box. I call someone and we start something."
Mary Lou has started many things and stuck her fingers in many pies - she worked in the Peace Corps in the 1960's, was named a metropolitan planning commissioner in Milwaukee, started a preschool for blind children in Kansas City, was a founding board member of United Southwest Bank (the first Santa Fe minority bank), and started the Santa Fe Mayor's Environmental Task Force. She is a member or founder of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Business for Social Responsibility, the Greer Garson Theatre Guild, Habitat for Humanity, Community Peace Forum, and Santa Fe Network for the Common Good.
When she wants to do something, MLC does it. "You can learn if you have the passion," she says. "I listen to my inner voice - and go ahead and do whatever it is even when people say it can't be done."
It is for these reasons that Mary Lou Cook was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure. The honor is bestowed on beloved citizens for their "outstanding dedication to the life, heart, and spirit of our community, and for serving as an inspiration to us all." Selected from among peers for experience, sense of humor, integrity, and patience, Mary Lou is adamant about the contribution an elder can make. "It is a great loss when our society puts elders in the closet," she states emphatically. "Our elders should be used in every aspect of the community. They have the overview."
When asked if she feels there are areas in which we can improve, she doesn't hesitate. "I wish more people would take more interest in city and state government. And one of the easiest and kindest things we can do is mentor a child," Mary Lou adds. "One hour a week."
And what words of wisdom does a Living Treasure have to offer us for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday?
"For me, each day seems satisfying and fulfilling," Mary Lou beams, and you can't help beaming back at her. "A wonderful energy comes from helping someone."
"It is important for us to be grateful for all the things we have," she continues. "Write down the things you are grateful for that money cannot buy. Try to do it everyday. This helps to establish a positive attitude."
"I, personally, am grateful that our forefathers created this holiday," MLC muses. "It's a miracle, and I'm very thankful for Thanksgiving."
One can almost anticipate her ascension up the staircase to the declaration of "Live! Live! Live!" After all, life is a banquet, and Mary Lou Cook is certainly not starving.
Contact Richard Fielder at the Santa Fe Parks & Recreation Department at (505) 955-2100. Please call ahead to have the trees you donate approved for drought compatibility.
Contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Mexico at (505) 983-8360. Located at 1225 St. Francis, Suite B, Santa Fe, NM 87505.