My favorite memory of athletics custodian Marvin Cooper is when he explained how he gets a cookie every day for a 5-year-old who is often in the complex with his dad, a coach for Knox. One day, the 5-year-old received his cookie and said to Cooper, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you!” Cooper told me this story with a chuckle, laughing at how kids react and perceive things.
Before that, I had lost my necklace during a volleyball game and he’d update me every day for the rest of the season where he searched and how horrible he felt that he couldn’t find it.
Many athletes have sentiments like this, appreciating Cooper for what he does and the smiles he puts on peoples’ faces.
When entering the athletics complex, Cooper is always around. In his small janitor closet, he has pictures of various athletics teams and memories hung up amongst his cleaning supplies. While getting his immense workload done, somehow he always has time for a conversation with an athlete or poke his head into a sporting event.
Junior Lindsay Kui, a soccer player, says she commonly has conversations with Cooper.
“He always talks to me when I’m working, we have really nice talks,” Kui said. “He makes art for his wife, he’s a really caring man.”
Volleyball coach Ashley McDonough had a similar story, as she gets to see Cooper often.
“Marvin is one of the biggest supporters of Prairie Fire athletics. He takes the time to get to know each team, coach and athlete on a personal level,” McDonough said. “When things are going well, he’s there cheering you on as if it were his own victory and when things are going bad he’s there to offer words of encouragement and support.”
Cooper has been at Knox for seven years now and says his favorite part is the students.
“The kids are all respectful, they’re the greatest bunch of kids I know. Even after they leave after four years, there’s still some you continue to remember. They’re just the best,” Cooper said. “Like I said, very respectful. I enjoy it. I wouldn’t consider leaving the gym at all because during the night shift Ñ that’s when a lot of things are going on Ñ you get to watch volleyball, basketball; except [for the sports that play] on the other side of campus.”
Even after asking Cooper more about his life, all he wanted to talk about was the students.
“I just want to see a smile on everyone’s faces and I want to see them happy all the time. It bothers me if I know they’re upset about something and they can’t deal with it at the moment but a few kind words, usually, I find that it can really help out. Sometimes even make their day, or make them happier for the moment anyway,” Cooper said.
His favorite memory being at Knox is when he was nominated for the Janet Hunter award.
“The one that knocked me off my feet was [the] Janet Hunter award that the students nominated me for. I was under the understanding that students had never nominated anybody before for that and it was really heart-tugging to know they liked me that well. It just made me think, you know, how much more I have to do to keep up with those standards,” Cooper said.
Cooper left a job he was unhappy at and came to Knox in October of 2011 and couldn’t be happier. Among other careers Cooper has had, this is by far his favorite.
“I had one job where I traveled, but that was too much. Too many days away from home. I let that one go, couldn’t do it. Kids were young, it was like, I can’t do this, I love my babies too much!” Cooper said. “It’s really neat being here, though. Now that mine have all grown up, it’s like, new kids! I have one son and three girls. It’s like, I have new kids that I can bug all the time.”
Many sentiments from other student athletes proved that Cooper’s statement about having ‘new kids’ at Knox hits very close to home for students as well.
Freshman basketball player Talya Frost had a nice sentiment about Cooper, explaining that she would remember him if nothing else from her Knox experience.
“Marvin is a great guy. Whenever you’re having a bad day and you happen to be in the gym he can make it better instantly. He is just a friendly and lively person and always makes people laugh and smile,” Frost said. “He’s very supportive of the women’s basketball team. Always asks about the team or next season or incoming recruits. He’s just always inquiring about how you’re doing and how your team is doing. And it’s nice knowing someone is that supportive of you as a person, player and student.”
Sophomore track athlete Joey Auger encourages any student that doesn’t know Cooper to get to know him.
“Every time I get to see Marvin, he’s got a smile on his face and is ready to hear about how Knox did in that day’s meet, game, or match. That’s what makes Marvin so great, he’s always there when we get back and willing to hear our complaints or about an amazing play or game that went on,” Auger said.
In 2015, Cooper received the David Agar Athletic Service Award for the most outstanding contributions to athletics in a non-competitive capacity. It is clear that he earned this award for many more reasons than just cleaning up the complex. Cooper contributes his time and love to the student athletes every day and always goes out of his way to have meaningful talks with the people visiting athletics.
What initially brought Cooper to Knox was his history of jobs. After explaining that six of his other jobs had closed up shop completely, he said he came to Knox because he was sure that Knox wouldn’t ever close.
“I thought, ‘that can’t happen here!’” Cooper laughed.
Cooper also has many memories at Knox. When asked about the craziest memory, he spoke of the sports teams making crazy comebacks.
“Well, definitely some of the comebacks from different times when teams have been down and they somehow reached down and pulled it out at the last minute. To me, that was just crazy how when you sometimes think you don’t have it, you’ve got it,” Cooper said. “You just sometimes can’t see when it’s coming. Even if it happens at the last second. I think that’s true in life, too. You never know what to expect. I want to call that crazy, sometimes it seems like it’s crazy. But it’s really not. It’s just what we really have inside of us when we want something bad enough and we go after it.”
Sophomore volleyball player Maddie Byrne had many kind words about Cooper.
“Marvin is the light of Prairie Fire athletics. I never get sick of seeing him and he is always ready to lend a helping hand regardless of what I or anyone else needs. Nothing in the Fieldhouse would run smoothly without him,” Byrne said.
One bizarre story in particular highlights Cooper’s caring heart. As he explained, a girl was rolling out bubble wrap on the sidewalk coming up to athletics. She then began rolling on the bubble wrap and popping all the bubbles.
“I watched and it was really enjoyable, because the next thing you know, there’s like six other people coming to help her pop the bubbles and she said, ‘If you ever find any more of this in the trash, let me know!’ So it was a couple weeks later, there was some more in the trash and I hollered at her and told her but she never came and got it. It was just a one time thing, I guess,” Cooper said.
He had saved the bubble wrap for this girl, thinking about it even weeks later. Many custodians wouldn’t think to watch out for the students in the facility, let alone have daily conversations with them. Cooper truly cares about his students and enjoys every minute of his job here at Knox.