Their early days in Theodosia were filled with setbacks, but 70 years later the Cook family are now in their fifth generation as resort operators on Bull Shoals.
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part story describing the 70 years of operation of the current Theodosia Marina Resort on Bull Shoals Lake by the Cook family.
In 1952, LB Cook Jr. had a good business in Joplin, where he worked with his father (LB Sr.) in the successful dry goods store his father bought in 1900 and named himself eight later. Joplin was a thriving and bustling town, home to millionaires and socialites, thanks to the area’s lead and zinc mines, and Cook’s Mercantile was one of the town’s many successful businesses.
LB Sr. had expanded the popular department store by buying an existing store, merging with another company, and in 1908, giving it his surname. He even bought another dry goods store in a nearby town and turned it into the Cook Mercantile as well.
The future looked bright for LB Cook Jr., who had grown up shopping and was the obvious person to take care of now that his father, born in 1863, was about to turn 90.
There was just one problem. The heir to the haberdashery “hated the trade” and wanted to “get out of town”, as he explained to Springfield News Manager columnist Frank Farmer in 1974. LB Jr. enjoyed hunting and fishing, and he wanted to find an easy-going job closer to nature where he would have more time for these hobbies.
Without telling their family, in 1950 LB and his wife, the former Pauline “Polly” Talbot, traveled to Little Rock to investigate the bidding process on one of 12 “concessions” of the Corps of Engineers which would operate on Bull Shoals Lake when it filled behind the dam still under construction on the White River.
“He wanted a small fishing camp.
“He wanted a little fishing camp,” LB’s son Bill Cook said recently. “He wanted a little wharf with rental boats that you rent out to fishermen. In this way, he told himself that he would have plenty of time to fish himself.
LB hoped to obtain the concession for the boat dock at Forsyth or Beaver Creek. But when the bids were put out, LB won a concession for Theodosia, a site that not only needed a boat dock, but also a motel and restaurant. “Nowhere else were all three needed,” Bill said. “It wasn’t what he wanted. But that’s what he got.
LB broke the news to his father, and on March 27, 1952, the Joplin’s Globe reported that Cook Mercantile, “one of Joplin’s oldest businesses,” had been sold.
Just under three months later, on June 14, 1952, LB and Bill drove from Joplin to Theodosia in the family’s 1948 Dodge DeSoto. Polly Cook and their daughter, Barbara, will join them a few months later.
LB Sr. would also come. The elder Cook died in 1956 at the age of 93.
Bill, “just 11 years old”, was excited about the adventure his family was embarking on. “For a young boy to come to the hills and live here was just amazing,” he said.
Coming from the west, they stopped at Ledbetter’s store in what was then Lutie. The Hobart Ledbetter store owner’s son, Dwight, was there. “He was five or six years younger, but we became friends,” Bill said.
He remembers driving to the Corps camping area for the first time with his father. “It was just a dirt road in a small circle. The only facility there was a one-hole that the Corps had provided,” he said.
“You couldn’t see any water because of the weeds growing on the bottom. There was a big spring there. You could walk through the weeds – higher than my head – and down into the water,” he said.
Bill and his father “slept under the stars – literally, without a tent – from June to September,” he said.
The buildings of the old Theodosia Village that existed north of the campground had been moved to higher ground, and the Little North Fork of the White River had receded enough to have flooded much of the village area, did he declare. The old bridge still carried traffic over the slowly becoming lake, but work on the new “million dollar bridge” had begun.
“There was nothing left there named Theodosia when we got there,” Bill’s sister Barbara (Wehrman) told the Times for a 2011 story. “All the shops and buildings that had been Theodosia had been demolished or moved. Everything was Lutie. We were called Theodosia Boat Dock, and that was all there was that was Theodosia. At a point, I know dad lobbied to bring Theodosia’s name back.
Eventually the town of Lutie was renamed Theodosia. All that remains of Lutie today is the school, which now offers K-12 in a modern building on Highway 160.
The dam had been completed a few months before the Cooks arrived, and the lake was slowly filling.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Bill said.
They traveled to Pontiac to visit the wharf that was already operating there under Sanford Robbins and his brother Jimmy, who had taken over from Pontiac’s first dealership, a Texan named Funchis who had only been there for a few months.
“I remember seeing Mrs. Robbins on the dock. She was holding a baby and frying burgers,” Bill said.
The Corps told the cooks where Theodosia’s wharf should be located. LB ordered wood and steel and hired a local carpenter, Russell Earnest Blankenship. Another carpenter, Tom Curry, had come with them from Joplin to help them; he camped with Bill and his father while they all worked on the site.
There were no telephones in the area until 1959, and Bill recalls one day in August 1952 he overheard Blankenship asking his father where Bill would go to school. Cook said Bill would go to Lutie – then learned from Blankenship that Lutie had started over a week earlier, Bill said.
Back in Joplin, schools didn’t start until after Labor Day, and LB had been so focused on completing the wharf that he hadn’t thought to ask when school had started.
By early September 1952 they had completed the wharf, which consisted of an office with 10 stalls on each side to accommodate 20 rental fishing boats. The structure floated on metal drums or barrels.
It rained the night they finished the roof, Bill said.
After three months of camping under the stars, Bill and his father moved into the dock to live temporarily. LB picked up Polly and Barbara in Joplin, and the family moved into a rented house about a mile west on what is now Highway 160. Bill attended Lutie’s one-room school .
A long school bus ride on winding roads
At that time, the old bridge was under water, so Barbara, a sophomore, took Fray Duggins’ school bus, which traveled west on Highway 160, then across Highway 95 to Highway 5 to Gainesville. It was a long drive on winding roads (and Highway 95 was not yet paved), but several of the bus students brought guitars and mandolins. “It was a regular jam party all the way to and from school,” Barbara said in the Times story.
In fact, she says, “It was kind of a disappointment” when the new bridge was completed, making school a relatively short 12 miles.
The Cooks’ lease with the Corps required a certain number of square feet per person for the motel and a specified seating capacity for the restaurant, LB Cook said in a 1971 article he wrote for the Times. Once the wharf was completed, the family set about building the motel. KG leased the operation of the restaurant to Don and Oleta Speise, who had moved to the Kansas City area and owned a liquor store in Isabella. They quickly got the restaurant started, and within months had “a little place with cedar tables that could probably seat 12 to 14 people,” Bill said.
In one of the weekly reports he wrote for the Times Several years ago, Bill noted, “When we moved to Theodosia, I thought it was the greatest adventure a young person could have, but when my sister joined us a few months later, she didn’t. was not so enthusiastic. Understand, things were very different back then, and the big difference was that we all had to work. In those early years, it was just family, with no other employees, and we were just starting to build everything from scratch. »
In his 2011 interview with the Times, Barbara said their father told her and Bill, “’You better get good swimmers, kids, because we don’t have time to take care of you.’ We were supposed to take care of ourselves and work in the company. Mom and I cleaned the motel rooms. It was hard work, but it didn’t hurt us.
Considering the setbacks that were about to befall the cooks, it seems like a miracle that they survived those early years in the business.
Continued in next week’s Times.