Lockport Rehab resident looks back on his 100 years

Duane Cook, a resident at the Lockport Rehab & Health Center on Lincoln Avenue, celebrated his 100th birthday on Thursday. The resident talked about life in the last century, how it went from horse and buggy to cars and electricity, as well as some of the famous folks he's seen in his life.

Duane Cook said that Thursday, Oct. 21 didn’t seem different from any other day.

“How does it feel?” he replied when asked. “It don’t feel too much different.”

But it was a very special day — exactly a century earlier, Cook was born in St. Jerome’s Hospital in Batavia.

The oldest of six, Cook remembered visiting his cousins. He said his mother and her sister were very close and the two families grew up together.

“They lived on a farm just south of Basom, New York,” he said. “We used to go back and forth and visit. They stayed quite close. Visiting on holidays. More than we’ve done in recent years.”

In those days everyone lived on a farm with horses, not cars. Cook recalled vividly riding on a sleigh in winter.

“One of my earliest memories, I was just a little kid, and we were riding in a sleigh one night. Real weather. Snow all around and my dad took my mother to the doctor and I went along. We were coming down this country road and we made a sharp turn and the sleigh tipped over and my mother and me, we all got doused in the snow. The horse stopped, of course, and that’s just something I remember,” he said. “Nobody got hurt.”

Later on Cook would learn to drive a car, “the way farm boys learned to drive,” by riding around the farm and back country roads.

“It was a Ford, I guess they called them V-8s. That was a famous car. I remember working on it. Getting in the car, driving a little ways. Around the farm or back country roads,” he said. “I did that when I was about 14-15.”

It was also on a farm that Cook married his wife, Shirley, in February of 1950. They had two children, Ginny and Doug, and in 1962 he went back to school – having gone for farming at Cornell in the 40s – and graduated with a masters in social work at the University at Buffalo. His daughter, Ginny McEldowney, said she will always remember him working as a social worker for Child Protection Services and running out on a call to take children out of horrible situations.

Cook worked as a social worker for 40 years.

“I forget a lot of the stuff I think about sometimes,” Cook admitted.

Things Cook did remember was seeing Lindberg fly over Lockport in 1927. He also has seen several presidents of the U.S. in person such as Nixon, Ford, Carter and Kennedy.

“I saw Kennedy several times,” Cook said. “I remember once Kennedy came to Lockport and came right down Main Street. He stopped his car. He stopped right dead in front of me and then he got out, walked around the car. Walked up to me. I looked him right in the eye. He acted like he was interested to see me, or something like that, and he stood there for a minute then walked on, got in his car and then he went up and made a speech. But I really had a close encounter with Kennedy.”

Other milestones included when Cook was 11 years old and living on the farm when they stopped using, “oil lamps and lanterns” and there was electricity hooked up.

“I remember they came and installed all the poles and all the things you had to have,” he said. “Up to that time, you didn’t go out at night too much, then after that we started sitting on the front porch late at night.”

His family also bought their first radio, an Atwater, and that was, “exciting to us,” he said.

A subject he’s quite passionate about is history, particularly the Civil War. McEldowney said she remembered going to Gettysburg a couple times, and Cook mentioned Bull Run and Antietam.

Cook received a cake by his son, Doug Cook, in California and treats from McEldowney in Arizona. The pair also Facetimed with their father and Cook himself was happy to talk about what he could.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “I think kids are more active today and more into things earlier and stuff like that. The question of life is different in a lot of ways, but it’s hard to say exactly what.”

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