Esther Hill Cook passed away peacefully at home during early morning hours of August 4, 2022. She was 106 years old, and made those years full with her busy hands and inquisitive mind. Esther was born at Buck Range on the family farm in southwest Arkansas, on November 5, 1915, to Thomas Ellis and Ella Jane Williams Hill. She was the oldest of their five daughters.
Esther was preceded in death by her husband, Robert J. Cook. She was the last of the Hill sisters surviving at the time of her death. She is survived by two daughters, Joyce C. Ferguson Peyer and Helen C. Kirby Hander; three granddaughters and their spouses: Lee Anne K. Wiederkehr (Mike), Kimberly K. Buchholz (Ed), and Dr. Martha A. Ferguson (Jeff Welsh). She has three great-grandchildren, Adele Moore, Wilson Welsh, and Meredith Welsh.
After spending her early years on the family farm, Esther was sent to nearby Nashville, Arkansas, to live with her maternal grandparents during the Great Depression to attend high school. She graduated salutatorian from Nashville High School in 1933. At the time, women did not typically go to college and she was fortunate to attend Magnolia A&M College for 2 years to obtain her teacher’s certificate. While there, she met and married Robert J. Cook. Because of his employment with in the Soil Conservation Service, their young family, first Joyce, then Helen two years later) moved many times within Arkansas during the early years of their marriage.
Esther raised her girls and taught school at Ben Lomond Elementary, Paris Junior High, and Newport Elementary before landing in Harrison, which she and her family called home for the next 50 years. In Harrison, she was a teacher and librarian at the junior high school for 12 years and high school librarian for 14, until her retirement in 1979. Esther put great value on education, ultimately finishing her BSE at the University of Central Arkansas over the summers . She pursued graduate studies in Library Science at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas, but did not complete her Masters because of the requirement to live on campus.
Esther was not one to sit around. She and Bob had a vast vegetable garden for many years. What they did not eat fresh out of the garden, she canned feeding her family nutritious home-grown food. She loved teaching and providing learning opportunities for her students. Esther took her granddaughters to the Harrison library to roam the stacks, inspiring a lifelong love of reading; she set them to work in the kitchen and later made them each a handwritten book of her favorite recipes. And she baked bread – loaves and loaves of it. She became famous for her oatmeal bread, so much so that a loaf of Mrs. Cook’s bread went for $40 at church fundraisers. Martha has kept alive on Granny’s bread, which she froze and ate by the slice for breakfast during her residency.
Shortly after retirement, Mrs. Cook taught English as a second a language at Northwest Arkansas Community College and helped people apply for US Citizenship in support of her belief in the importance of voting. She was an active member of First Methodist Church, Delta Kappa Gamma and Arkansas Teacher’s Retirement Association. She volunteered many hours at the Boone County’s Museum or Library for which she was honored in 2012 at the ‘Esther Cook Day’ banquet.
In 2003, when the stairs to the basement laundry room became too steep, Esther made the wise decision to move to Butterfield Place in Fort Smith, where she continued to be busy. She was integral to life there, functioning as the librarian, leading an exercise class, founding the book club and made many dear friends. She became a member of First Presbyterian Church where she enjoyed Women’s Circle. Esther received the Mayor’s Good Neighbor Award in 2008 for her work as a docent at Miss Laura’s. There was frequently a jigsaw puzzle on the table in her sitting room, and she relished a good game of dominoes. She gradually slowed down after reaching 100, but you only knew she wasn’t feeling well if she missed breakfast or failed to complete the crossword by 11 AM.
Esther loved having younger people around her. She felt that “just listening” was very important, but she could tell a good tale, too: about life at Buck Range, being a country girl at school in the big city of Nashville, keeping a home during the day of World War II ration stamps, preserving the Tall Grass Prairie, or discussing current events.
The family would like to extend their gratitude to the caregivers at Around the Clock and Heart of Hospice for their skill and dedication, treating Esther as they would be a beloved member of their own families, and to the staff of Butterfield Place, now Morada Fort Smith . She was overjoyed to have the chance to meet their children, grandchildren and pets. Our special thanks to Eric the Red with the Red Car, Lacey and the many other very special individuals who Granny loved. We are grateful.
Visitation will be 10AM to Noon at Edwards Funeral Home on Friday, August 12th, followed by the funeral service at 2PM at First Presbyterian Church. Interment will take place at 11AM on August 13th in Maplewood Cemetery, Harrison, AR.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Library of your choice or First Presbyterian Church in Fort Smith.
To view the online guestbook, please go to www.edwardsfuneralhome.com
Posted online on August 05, 2022
Published in Southwest Times Record