December 1, 2009

USA: 106-year-old took life 'as it came'

. AUSTIN, Texas / The Austin American-Statesman / December 1, 2009 SARAH COOKE, 1903-2009 106-year-old took life 'as it came' Granddaughter of Confederate Army officer spent most of her life caring for others, her family says. By Helen Anders, American-Statesman Staff In her 106 years of life, Sarah Walton Parmele Cooke saw the invention of the engine-powered airplane, the washing machine, the television, sliced bread, antibiotics, the microwave oven and the computer. But to Cooke, who died Saturday at Christopher House hospice after a stroke, the best invention ever was the pressure cooker. "It would heat things up in just about two minutes," she said with a grin in an American-Statesman interview two weeks ago. Cooke was being interviewed for a story about centenarians, and she said she wasn't really sure how she'd managed to reach that milestone. "It never entered my mind," she said. "I just took it as it came. I think living in one town, one climate, is part of my long life. And happiness. I think happy people live longer." The youngest of the eight children of James and Sarah Parmele, Sarah Walton Parmele was born June 13, 1903, in the downtown Austin home of her maternal grandparents, Letitia and William "Buck" Walton. Walton was a Confederate Army officer and a defense lawyer who prided himself on never seeing a client hanged. He was elected Texas attorney general in 1866 but was removed by the U.S. government, along with other Confederate officers, and became chairman of the state Democratic executive committee. The Parmeles later moved to the family homestead in Granger, where James Parmele was president of Granger National Bank. The Parmeles lived in a big, drafty farmhouse that Sarah Cooke called "the coldest house in the world," first heated with wood stoves and later with gas. "I used to carry buckets of hot water for my bath," she said. "I loved hot baths better than anything." In the Statesman interview, Cooke reminisced fondly about growing up in a time "when we could play outside. We would catch lightning bugs and put them in a jar. We could go anywhere we wanted without fear of being kidnapped." These days, Cooke knew, were different. In January 2002, her great-granddaughter, Rachel Cooke, disappeared while jogging near her family's Georgetown home. Cooke's family said the matriarch's faith — she was a longtime Methodist — was a rock during that ordeal. "Her strength and her faith and her love helped us all get through that and continued to help us," said Diane Cooke, Rachel's aunt and Sarah Cooke's granddaughter. (Rachel Cooke's disappearance remains a mystery.) Sarah Parmele briefly attended the University of Texas but transferred to Southwestern University in Georgetown. She left college in 1924 to marry Glenn Cooke, whom she'd met in high school. Cooke died in 1991. Sarah Cooke spent most of her life caring for others, her family said. "She went everywhere she was needed," her son, Glenn Cooke, said. She used to make angel food cakes every Friday to take to a nursing home, "and she didn't even like angel food cake," her daughter-in-law, Louise Cooke, said. "Others came first," said Cooke's niece Eugenia Richards. "She never gave a thought to her own needs. And she said 'thank you' more than anyone else in the world." Since a bout with pneumonia in 1994, she had lived with Glenn Jr. and Louise Cooke in North Austin and spent many of her days shelling pecans in the kitchen. In addition to Glenn, Sarah Cooke's survivors include her daughters Helen Cooke Anderson and Bernice Cooke Ferguson, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. [rc] Copyright 2009 The Austin American-Statesman