Last Updated on April 27, 2022 12:16 pm
As part of ongoing activities associated with the Boone 150 celebrations in 2022, marking the 150th anniversary of Boone’s official incorporation as a town on January 23, 1872, the Watauga County Historical Society (WCHS) has established the Watauga County Historical Society Hall of Fame. Throughout 2022, WCHS will name twelve individuals or groups—one each month—as members of the inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame.
For the month of April 2022, the WCHS is delighted to announce that John Earl Cooper, Jr. (b. 1945), and Faye Bolick Cooper (b. 1947) have been named as the next inductees of this inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame, which honors individuals, either living or dead, who have made significant and lasting contributions to Watauga County's history and/or literature, including those whose efforts have been essential to the preservation of Watauga County's history and/or literature. Honorees need not have been residents of Watauga County. The WCHS is particularly interested in honoring individuals who meet the above criteria but who may have been overlooked in traditional accounts of Watauga County's history and literature, including women and people of color. Selections for this inaugural class were made from nominations submitted by members of the Digital Watauga Project Committee (DWPC) of the WCHS. Beginning in 2023, the WCHS will also consider nominations from members of the public, which in turn will be evaluated by the DWPC.
John and Faye Cooper left careers in Winter Park, Florida, in 1980 to reopen the original Taylor General Store (built 1883) at Valle Crucis, known after 1913 as the Mast General Store. The store had closed in 1977, shortly after its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the Coopers acquired the landmark in October 1979. Through the diligent efforts of the Coopers, the Mast General Store came roaring back to life as the heart of the Valle Crucis community. In 1982, the Coopers expanded into the Watauga Supply Company building (1909) a short distance to the east, today known as the Mast Store Annex and Candy Barrel. In 1989, the Coopers also moved the original Little Red Schoolhouse, one of the county’s early high schools (1907) that was once located behind the Valle Crucis Methodist Church, to the area behind the original Mast General Store in order to save it from demolition.
The Coopers’ commitment to the preservation of Valle Crucis’s rural character and heritage has been impressive for decades. The Coopers played a hand in the establishment of the Valle Crucis Community Park in 1985 and the Valle Crucis Historic Preservation Commission in 1990, and since that time, they have donated nearly 22 acres of land along the Watauga River in Valle Crucis to the Blue Ridge Conservancy and played a critically important leadership role in the nomination of the Valle Crucis Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. In 2017, the Coopers were honored for these efforts as the inaugural recipients of the Stanback Conservation Leadership Award. As a testament to their continuing commitment to Valle Crucis’s preservation and landscape conservation, in 2020, a new Valle Crucis Community Park trail opened across the land previously donated by the Coopers.
At Boone, the Coopers have also played a key role in the community’s preservation. Their acquisition and rehabilitation of the J. Walter Jones Building (1922) and the W. R. Winkler Building (1927) in 1987 for expansion of the Mast General Store franchise culminated in the successful preservation of two key buildings in Boone’s historic downtown. In 2012, John Cooper also took the reins as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, leading the initiative to rehabilitate, preserve, and reopen the Appalachian Theater (1938), including the restoration of its iconic Art Deco façade, which won a North Carolina Main Street Award for Best Façade Rehabilitation of 2017. The theater reopened in 2019 as an innovative movie theater and performing arts venue and is once again the hub of Boone’s downtown entertainment.
The Coopers have also long been supporters of music, theater, and dance initiatives through Appalachian State University, earning them the ASU Alumni Association’s Honorary Alumni Award in 2016. Beyond this, they have given selflessly to many community initiatives too numerous to list in their entirety here. For example, John was a founder of the North Carolina High Country Host, was elected to serve as a member and vice-chair of the Watauga County Commissioners, and served on the board of Hospitality House. Faye has served on the capital campaign for Hospitality House and on the boards of Appalachian Summer, Western Youth Network, and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. She was also a founder of the Appalachian Women’s Fund. In 2017, the Coopers received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, for their decades of service to the Watauga County community.
The WCHS is delighted to honor John and Faye Cooper for their impressive contributions to the preservation of Watauga County’s, Valle Crucis’s, and Boone’s history and heritage, as well as their inspiring and selfless commitment to rejuvenating the local communities in which they have lived and worked for the past five decades.
Faye and John Cooper are seen here on a bench in front of the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, circa 1980. Unidentified clipping courtesy of the W. W. Mast Family Collection, Digital Watauga Project.