John Wesley Cook was born September 5, 1940, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. He died of kidney failure March 7, 2021, in La Paz, Mexico at 80 years of age.
Growing up in the northern Wisconsin town of Woodruff, John knew what a Hodag was, and became a life-long fan of the Green Bay Packers. As a youngster, he spent summer days at his Grandpa’s resort where he had way more fun than he deserved. John would recall his Grandpa’s once-a-year climb onto the rooftop to raucously sing and sip with a friend, and lamented that he wasn’t allowed to join in their chorus of dirty words.
John’s first attempt at college ended when he spent more time studying girls and beer than books. His first attempt at military enlistment also tanked; he was turned away until he successfully gained five pounds. Initially he was assigned to Intelligence at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage where he listened in on Russian Morse Code radio traffic. Later, he served at Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota where he flew early jet trainers. Using the GI bill, John re-enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, which he called “Harvard of the Midwest.” Convincing the dean he was serious, John graduated, although he remained on academic probation three years.
In 1967 John drove with friends to Alaska. Thus began a series of adventures across the state. As a “Fish Hawk” in remote coastal areas, John held bears at bay while enforcing fishing regulations from Seldovia through Sand Point. His poem, “The Ballad of Honest Dan,” recounts events that left deep teeth marks on his government-issued rifle.
Above the Arctic Circle in 1970, John purchased a Cessna 140, exploring the vast region by boat, plane, dogsled, and snowmachine. While serving as a social worker for Kotzebue and area villages, he reveled in meeting people and learning the language and culture of the region. As a probation officer in the ‘80s, he continued to apply local knowledge to help people.
With a wry humor and affable nature, John made friends wherever he set foot. When living in Nome, he drove cab, learning every household and family history in town. As Nome jail guard, he would casually walk a dozen inmates unfettered down Front Street to pick up litter, net candle fish, or attend new showings at the movie theatre.
Upon retiring in 1990, John split time between Anchorage, Seward, Wisconsin and Mexico. For breakfast, he’d often make an extra pancake and strip of bacon that he’d drape over his Spenard apartment balcony to share with a raven he’d named Edgar Allen.
John sailed throughout Alaska, the west coast, and the Sea of Cortez. Beginning with the 21’ co-owned Suzy Q, John later capitalized on his surname. He became Captain Cook, owning sailboats christened Discovery and Resolution. He crossed the infamous Gulf of Alaska several times and sailed with friends between Mexico and Alaska over many voyages.
John studied Spanish diligently and, in 2003, moved to La Paz, Mexico, where he had developed an affinity for the people and culture. He attained Mexican citizenship in 2017.
John was small in stature, but large in character, spirit, and humor. He was a natural storyteller and rarely lacked an adage, a witty quote, or a joke for any occasion. He is deeply missed.
John was preceded in death by parents, Pearl (Maynard) and Miller Basil Cook; and his sister, Celia “Cookie” Kramlick. He is survived by his niece Tina Andaluz in Sparta, Tennessee; nephew Russell Swords in Wisconsin; long-time companion Alice Kowunna in Kotzebue; and a loving, adopted family in La Paz, Mexico: Hector and Janneth (Cantante) Garcia Gonzalez and their sons Luis and Jacob, as well as a multitude of friends across the globe.
John was cremated in La Paz, Mexico.