Deep Roots. Familiar Routes.
A young boy bikes through streets heavily lined with pine trees and dotted with houses. As he pedals from his Tyler Street home to his grandparents’ door near St. Paul’s, little does he know that 50 years later he will still be rooted near the alley under his wheels. Today, inside Mike Cooper’s Covington home with wife Catherine, the walls hold books, old pictures and historic maps that illustrate his journey to arrive right back where he started. “Technically, in 1953, the closest hospital was in Bogalusa, but I think it’s fair to say I was born and raised here,” laughs the former two-term mayor of Covington. “I was baptized at St. Peter Church and attended St. Peter School, Covington Jr. High and St. Paul’s. The big landmarks then were the new St. Tammany Parish Hospital, Badeaux’s Drive-In, and the new St. Tammany Parish Courthouse on Boston Street, dedicated in 1960.” The colorful history lesson continues, “The Southern Hotel building housed Tugy’s Bar and a café, Claiborne Hill had a Dairy Queen, and there were full-service gas stations downtown. One summer, I worked for City Drug Store making deliveries on my trusty bike. It was the typical small town of its day. Did you know my dad was mayor back then?”
In fact, Cooper’s family goes back for generations in Covington and Madisonville. In the early 1900s, Captain Victor LeBlanc operated freight boats between New Orleans and the Northshore, and Ernest Cooper worked at the Mackie Pine Oil Plant in Covington. Fast forward to 1967 when Mike’s father Ernest took office as mayor of Covington serving for 24 years. “It was my first taste of politics and it was pretty neat. We delivered signs and knocked on doors,” says Cooper, recalling his excitement as a 13-year-old participant. “The Saints held their first training camp at St. Paul’s t
hat year. Since Dad was mayor, I got to ride in the Police Chief’s car that met the players’ bus at the Causeway. We escorted them in and got to watch practice. I grew up seeing my dad as an integral part of the community and I wanted to do the same.”
High school brought another mentor. “I greatly admired Coach Gene Bennett. For junior year basketball tryouts, I was still recovering from a serious car accident, and I could see his apprehension when I showed up. I told him, ‘Don’t worry Coach, I’m not here to try out. I want to be your team manager.’ He taught me that I didn’t need to make the score, but as manager, I facilitated the win by organizing and planning for the team. I’ve taken that lesson into every leadership role I’ve ever had.”
In 1977, after putting himself through college and earning a degree in City and Regional Planning, Cooper landed a job in the St. Tammany Parish Planning Department. The Covington City Council later appointed him to their Planning and Zoning Commission on which he served for 10 years. When the mayor’s seat opened in 2011, Cooper says he was called to run, “It’s in my blood. I won in the primary and was re-elected in 2015 with no opposition. I was fortunate to work with a great city council to provide amenities and services for our citizens. And, as I learned in high school, teamwork is invaluable, so I appointed qualified, dedicated people to lead our departments.” Cooper cites a comprehensive road program and improvements to drainage, parks and playgrounds as a few of his proudest accomplishments. “I also wanted informal interaction with citizens, so I introduced Coffee with Mayor Cooper. We met quarterly and I’d give updates and answer questions. It was great to communicate with residents and business owners in that casual setting.” Covington’s bicentennial in 2013 was also meaningful to the descendant of past city leaders. “It was moving to share my family’s legacy during that celebration. It really brought the community together.”
As Cooper reflects, his wife, Catherine, returns from delivering signs for his upcoming campaign for Parish President. She confirms a meeting for him as she cheerfully whisks through the room. Of his future Cooper says, “My education, experience and desire to serve has culminated in this next step for me. Catherine is a great supporter. We’ll be married 11 years this month. She’s contributed greatly to my success and is invaluable on the campaign trail.” Also, always faithfully by his side sits Button, who Catherine and Mike rescued from Animal Services in 2010. Aside from family time, the Coopers focus on worthwhile community causes. “Much of my spare time is spent at charity events, and when I’m home, I enjoy grilling for family and friends. And I still love riding my bike around the neighborhood.”
An accomplished man pedals along his childhood route, now bustling with activity but still lined with trees and the familiar feeling of home. For generations, his family has shared a deep-rooted dedication to shaping the future of a growing and prosperous St. Tammany while maintaining its character—a legacy he is proud to carry forward.
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