Shirley Morani Cooper, a longtime Herrin community volunteer, has been named Grand Parade Marshall for HerrinFesta Italiana – 2011.
She is the daughter of Sam Alfred Morani from Vinca, Italy and Mary Martha Oldani who was born in Herrin. Her father and his family traveled from Italy to sail from Havre, France to New York on the ship, La Gascogne, in 1909 when he was ten years old.
Her parents were married in 1927 in Royalton. She and her sister, Pattie Richard of Christopher grew up at 208 North 11th Street. She remembers, “We never locked our doors and walked everywhere in town and we especially enjoyed downtown window shopping on Saturday night. We played games like Kick the Can and Hopscotch under the streetlights until our parents called us home. We were never afraid to walk alone at night in Herrin.”
She remembers thinking, “ Most men were coal miners. The coal miner’s lunch bucket was used to transport a bucket of beer for a quarter from places like The Monarch and The Arcade back home. Sometimes we might even get a nickel for candy to be spent at DeTomasi’s Grocery or Frank’s Market.”
Two of her neighbors were Herrin High School teachers, English instructor, Tony Venegoni, and typing teacher, Mary Rose Colombo.
Her mother worked at The European Hotel in the 1920’s as the rough and tumble world of Herrin exploded in the Roaring 20’s. She has a copy of an old newspaper from April 29, 1910 when her grandfather, Louis Oldani, 24, a bartender at The Rome Club,was shot and killed. Oldani was asking patrons to leave in the late hours of closing when a customer shot him at The Rome Club.
Her grandmother Enrichetta Ruggeri Oldani then married Louis Bianchini who was employed at the Lombard Grocery Store, which still stands where the Illinois Café was located. He lived with Shirley’s family until his death in 1944 and was a loving part of their family.
Her father was called “Sam the Pickle Man”. He sold restaurant supplies from Mt. Vernon to Cairo. Shirley and her sister Pattie helped pack pickles, mustard and catsup. It was a family affair. Their transportation was his large blue truck which displayed the slogan. “Hit me easy I’m full of good pickles.” on the truck bumper. He drowned at Crab Orchard Lake at the Spillway July 21, 1951.
She attended St. Mary’s Catholic School and graduated 8th grade in l946. Her classmates were Jack Murray, John Guetgemann, Nick Varacalli, Donald Quaglia, Joe Agers, John Ottolini, Jim Bayles, Mary Megna Kenney, Gloria Miramonti Ellis, Marilyn Bione Walker, Josephine Conti, Virginia Mangum Smothers and Mary Ann Oldani Bessler. She graduated from Herrin High School in 1950.
She possesses a strong work ethic. Her first job was after school in the Herrin City Clerk’s office followed by a stint at Norge Company after high school graduation. She worked for various companies throughout her career including the Herrin City Clerk’s office and the Herrin Water Department from 1950-1966. She also worked for engineer Lawrence Lipe, American Magnetics and White Electric. She wrapped her career before retirement with 10-year tenure in the office of then Illinois State Representative and then State Senator Larry Woolard.
Shirley married Monty Cooper August 21, l970 at Herrin First United Methodist Church. They blended their families of her three children, Cindy Gurley O’Brien-Hede, a flight attendant and antique dealer, who died at the age of 47 in 2002, Greg, a laborer and wife, Debbie Gurley of Herrin, Patrick, an over the road trucker and wife, Marie Gurley of Sesser and Monty’s two daughters, Monica Cooper and Karen Sigler, a caregiver, both of Bradenton, FL, They have 9 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.
He said he fell in love with her beautiful smile. She says she fell in love with his gentle nature, and how patient and supportive he was of projects she undertook. Monty accepted the challenge of taking on the responsibility of a new wife and three teenage children.
Monty was adopted by Lloyd and Eunice Cooper from a hospital in Ft. Worth, TX. The family traveled in Illinois and eventually settled in Herrin where he was a mid-year 1949 graduate of Herrin Township High School. He joined the US Army for two years after graduation. He worked for Bill Jack at Herrin Lumber Company for 17 years before he became a longtime employee of the City of Herrin for 30 years. Monty is President of the Mosquito Abatement Department for the City of Herrin and Shirley serves on the board. He was a 30 plus-year treasurer for Laborers Local 372. He also served on the Herrin Park Board. He retired as Supervisor of the City of Herrin Waste Water Treatment Plant in 1995.
Monty worked as a Tour Guide for Five Star Tours after his retirement.
The couple has traveled the world including 17 countries, and three trips to Italy and over 22 cruises.
Their first trip to Italy was in 1977 with translation dictionary in hand. They spent two days with Giana and Franco DeVecchi, and their young daughter in Turbigo, Italy. He was the nephew of Costanzia Garagiola who lived across the street from Shirley’s family on North 9th street in Herrin. She was Shirley’s former baby sitter. They found the Italian tradition of placing fresh flowers and vigil lights on the graves at the fenced cemetery a lovely sight.
They continue to serve their community as longtime volunteers at the Red Cross Blood Mobile, HerrinFesta Italiana, and the Annual Herrin Thanksgiving Dinner.
They are both avid Southern Illinois Miners fans and have annual season tickets. Fans know it is Shirley ringing her famous cowbell in Section 109 when the Miners score. They were host families for six players for three seasons. Bruzer their four-year-old Yorkie, shares their home and their travels.
The couple who are rarely seen without the other are members of Carterville First United Methodist Church where she works with the Shawl Ministry. She has volunteered almost two decades with the Herrin Hospital Auxiliary Gift Garden. She volunteered at The Herrin Community Pantry where she served as a board member and treasurer for two and a half years.
She is an excellent cook, makes Crucants, an Italian peanut cookie, from a recipe of her mother’s, makes delectable Torrone – an Italian nougat candy and likes to share homemade caramels and baked goods with friends. She has a great sense of humor that makes her a lively friend and companion.
Shirley says, “I like Herrin because of the closeness we have with our neighbors and friends. A small town brings its own rewards that a large city doesn’t have. I never wanted to live anyplace else.”
Larry Woolard says of his former staff member, “Shirley always went above and beyond what she was asked to do. She accomplished each assigned goal and was committed to doing more. She was flexible and open to new ideas, and an asset to my staff. She was a real joy to work with. Her friendship has spanned her retirement and all of us who worked with her look forward to celebrating this honor with her and with Monty.”
Shirley Cooper will be honored at the HerrinFesta Honoree Banquet on Tuesday, May 24 at the Herrin Civic Center and the couple will lead the Grand HerrinFesta Parade on Saturday, May 28 at 11 a.m. through downtown Herrin.