Raised in Town Hill and the oldest of five children, Jo Cooper attended Bar Harbor schools and graduated from Mount Desert Island High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in medieval studies at Wellesley College and did her graduate work in Scottish medieval history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Jo married Don Cooper in 1977, and they soon looked for a place to settle. “We were working for my family’s business in Town Hill,” Jo said. Seeking “some place within commuting distance” of their jobs, the Coopers bought land in the Marlboro region of Lamoine and built a house there.
Jo soon realized that “for me, it was a real neighborly town, a true neighborhood. When we moved to Lamoine, people were welcoming. It was quiet. We love it here.”
Raised in a family that “believed in being civically engaged, I always went to town meetings” after arriving in Lamoine, Cooper said. “I felt they were trying to cap what we could raise at the town meeting,” and that “upset me.
“Then I figured, ‘I shouldn’t gripe. I should get involved,’” so she sought and won election to the select board. Evelyn Farrell, who “had been on the board a number of years before I was,” was the first woman to chair the board before Cooper became the board chair from March 2017 to March 2018.
Believing that “volunteers are really crucial to any town,” Jo and Don joined the Lamoine Historical Society, now gearing up for the Lamoine sesquicentennial in 2020. “Lamoine has got a lot of people involved with it,” from residents joining the volunteer fire department to people helping out with Lamoine School programs, Jo said.
The Coopers raised their daughter, Lily, and sons John, Eric, and Robert in Lamoine. Robert belongs to the Lamoine fire department.
Some years ago, Jo volunteered for hospice and worked at Island Connections, a Bar Harbor-based non-profit launched in the mid-1990s to assist seniors and disabled people living on Mount Desert Island. “We soon realized we needed something similar like this in the rest of Hancock County,” said Cooper, who helped establish the Ellsworth-based Friends In Action in 2003.
As the non-profit’s executive director, Cooper manages eight part-time employees and “over 200 volunteers” dedicated to helping “older adults stay active and involved in the community.
“Our primary service is [the] transportation” of seniors, and FIA offers “over 35 exercise classes of all different kinds,” she said. “No matter your fitness level, there is probably a program for it. We have over 700 participants on a regular basis.
“The social aspect is what people love in our fitness programs,” Cooper said. “I’m a positive person; I like smiling people, and there’s a lot of smiling here” at the Gen. Bryant E. Moore Community Center, to which Friends In Action moved to 2009 after the city leased the building to the Down East Family YMCA.
Friends In Action rents space in the community center from the Y.
Friends In Action raises “all our own money,” and “there is a big challenge” to doing so, Cooper said. Fees are charged for the fitness programs, and several Hancock County municipalities (including Ellsworth) provide donations to support FIA.
“For a non-profit, it takes a lot of community involvement,” she said. “We have a fantastic board of directors” dedicated to FIA’s mission.
“Very involved with St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church” in Ellsworth, Cooper is president-elect of the Ellsworth Rotary Club that meets Tuesday nights at China Hill. She participates in that organization’s meetings and programs.