JUNE COOKE: 1933 2015
by Nick Bellantoni

reprinted from the Spring, 2015 edition of the FOSA Newsletter

When June Cooke was a young girl growing up in South Windsor, she discovered her first "arrowhead" on the family property near their chicken yard, setting into motion a lifelong fascination and participation in archaeology. When she was in her twenties, she joined the Albert Morgan Archaeological Society, which served the Lower Connecticut River Valley, bringing together professional and avocational archaeologists, to conduct summer field excavations. She worked closely with the first Connecticut State Archaeologist, Dr. Douglas Jordan, and together with her husband, Dave Cooke, they excavated many endangered archaeological sites, and for many years conducted research at the Morgan Site in the Rocky Hill floodplain.

June's dedication went beyond fieldwork. In the mid-1980s, an economic upswing brought increased housing development to the state, and she realized that many below ground archaeological resources were being inadvertently destroyed because no one was advising the towns in their land use decision-making capabilities. June understood that better preservation mechanisms protecting archaeological and historical properties needed implementation at both the state and local government levels. Working with her state representative, Richard Tulisano, and partnering with Arend-Jan Knuttel of East Windsor, she formed an exploratory committee to petition the state legislature into creating an "Office of Archaeology" to work with municipal governments. In 1987, June saw through the passage of a bill that established the Office of State Archaeology (OSA) within the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut. And, the rest, as they say, is history!

In spite of this accomplishment, June was not through with her creative ideas and dedication. By 1997, she recognized that the OSA was underfunded with no staff other than the state archaeologist, and when it was apparent that no funds would be forthcoming from the state legislature, she developed the concept of a Friends group to support the office. I can remember vividly when she first approached me in her kitchen with the idea of developing a non-profit organization to coordinate volunteers in the field and lab, and assist in creating public outreach and fund-raising opportunities. Needless to say, I was rather skeptical, not that I didn't see the need, but just couldn't imagine how it would all be organized and supported, but then again, being familiar with what June had achieved in the past, I simply told her to go for it, though not really expecting much to happen. Well, she took the ball and ran. Soon she organized a small group of individuals, including professional and amateur archaeologists, and thus was born the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA). June served as the first treasurer and on the initial board of directors. As FOSA grew over the years, June was happy to step into the background, allowing new members to develop the organization into the future. And, FOSA continues to expand to this day with a new state archaeologist and an ever-changing, hard working board of directors. June's conception of what FOSA could be, facilitating the support needed to assist OSA in its mandated responsibilities, has been an amazing success story that is unprecedented in any other state.

As the state archaeologist over the last three decades, I can honestly say that without June Cooke, there would have been no Office of State Archaeology, and without June Cooke and FOSA, OSA could never have accomplished half of the archaeological preservation projects we were entrusted to perform. What is so significant about what June founded is that her efforts have saved many, many archaeological sites in Connecticut, and has created far more visibility, education, support and public awareness for archaeology than had ever materialized before her. It can be said that many people make meaningful differences in living their lives, however, June made "game changing" differences!

She was not only devoted to the science of archaeology, but June generously gave of her time and expertise in so many ways, to so many causes. She volunteered for the Friends of Dinosaur State Park (her inspiration for FOSA), helped raise game birds and rehabilitate wildlife, created natural and cultural trails through Quarry State Park and Dividend Pond, both in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. She helped guide through the State Archaeological Preserve nomination for the Dividend Brook Industrial Archaeological District, protecting stone ruins of some of the most wonderful water-powered mill complexes in the state. And, if you go to Dividend Park today, you can walk along "June's Green Trail", named in her honor.

June's interests spanned the arts and crafts. She was an active member in both the Rocky Hill and South Windsor Historical Societies, and volunteered at the Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor. June also loved to hunt, and I remember the times she would go off turkey hunting with the "boys" and was the only one to bring home dinner!

A decade ago, when Dr. Douglas Owsley, forensic anthropologist for the Smithsonian Institution, came to Connecticut to speak at the FOSA annual meeting, he was at that time able to meet June and Dave, spending an evening at their home. Doug returned to Connecticut this year to once again speak at the annual meeting, and he told me the story that on his first visit he was discussing with June his interest in starting to grow berries on his farm. June went through their extensive house library, pulled out a book on berries, and gave it to Doug as a gift. He told me that he uses that book to this day, and has never forgotten June's generosity and her knowledge of the subject. Once you met her, and she had so many friends, no one could ever forget June Cooke.

On a personal level, we have lost a dear, dear friend. We spent so much time at her house in Rocky Hill that I thought she and Dave would charge me rent. Early in our tenure, she worked with me at the Walton Cemetery Site in Griswold, rescuing a colonial-era child's burial, she assisted at the exhumation and repatriation of Henry Opukaha'ia in Cornwall, and helped us at numerous archeological sites across the state. She was a pleasure to be with in the field, had a wonderful sense of humor, a natural curiosity about the world around her, and was steadfast in her dedication and support of friends and family. She was a real inspiration, and her accomplishments never ceased to amaze me.

June's surviving family includes four children: her son, Benjamin Stulpin and his wife Linda; her daughters, Cynthia Klemyk and her husband Jim, Beverly Martina and her husband Luis, Betty-Jane Lascasse and her husband Lenny; stepdaughters, Brenda Cooke and her husband Peter Marziano, Karen Sears and her husband Bill; grandchildren, Benjamin, Eric, Michael, Jodi, James, Jessica, Nicholas, and Emily; step-grandsons, Ryan and Barry; great-grandchildren, Bethany, Ben, Nathan, Noah, Jillian, Keira, Ryan, Destiny, Gianna and Cohen. We extend our deepest sympathies to them all.

If someone were to write a history of Connecticut archaeology in the second half of the 20th-century, they would be very remiss if they didn't mention June Cooke and her many contributions to the state. Her legacy will continue on with the Office of State Archaeology, the Friend's group, Dividend and Quarry Parks, and she will always remain in the hearts of her family and friends. June Cooke will never be forgotten, but she will be dearly missed.

Readers are invited to add their thoughts.
Please forward to webmaster Jim Hall at jamesh52@comcast.net

June Cooke was the "quiet leader." Always there with a smile and a kind word, she was able to gently persuade others to take on roles that they may not have been comfortable undertaking. And through it all her support and encouragement were always close behind.
  -  Roger Thompson

June was such a giving individual. She always made room for anyone new to her circle making them feel welcomed and useful right from the start.

She never hesitated to raise a new theory or suggest another way around a difficult situation, or simply just dig in and do what had to be done.

One special memory was visiting and walking around her backyard with her, listening to some old stories and talking about different plants.

I loved her practical advise from gardening tips to maintaining the peace while being a minority when working around so many men.

June and Dave were so devoted and passionate about our history, we owe them so much for all they have given to Connecticut and our FOSA circle.
  -  Ruth Shapleigh-Brown

I was always impressed with June's amazing fund of knowledge of archeology and the treasures found in our Connecticut soil. June was a woman who loved history and its preservation. FOSA has lost its' mother.
  -  Henri Coppes

June Cooke was my friend. Since the mid-1980's, I have known her to be a person of limitless curiosity. We have visited dozens, if not hundreds of sites during that time with her husband Dave. She introduced me to a variety of interesting and dedicated people including; Helen and Bud, Dreda, Andy, Dean, Dick, and so many others. She welcomed me into the Albert Morgan Archaeological Society in its heyday. She made it possible for me to meet Lucy.

I also remember the cups of coffee in her kitchen and casual chats in her living room over the years. I remember how kind she was to my wife Polly and son Matt, while Dave and I were off to yet another site.

June only asked me for two things that I recall, and I was pleased to respond; a survey of a potential Shear Factory site at Dividend in Rocky Hill, and a founding Board membership for this group she was working on called FOSA.

Yes, June was my friend, and I will miss her.
  -  Bruce Greene

June's love of Natural Science was expressed to me by her unhappiness at having to throw away her collection of birds' nests, eggs, rocks, etc., that she had picked up during her walks and hikes because she was moving to Arizona. That led to a long discussion of where her hikes took her. In addition to her active part in archaeology, I'll never forget when she brought a freshly baked pie to a dig - I think it was at the Rogers' site. June always tried to make things possible, such as contacting the Glastonbury Historical Society to ask if FOSA could meet there since she was leaving Rocky Hill, where we had been meeting. She and Dave opened the door at the Rocky Hill Historical Society for us to meet. June and her enthusiasm for life will be missed.
  -  Cynthia Redman

I am very grateful to have known June and all the influence she's given me in getting involved in CT archaeology. She encouraged me to join the FOSA Board of Directors and also write articles for the newsletter. God Bless her.
Jim Trocchi

One of June's many talents was the ability to connect with people, make friends of them, and draw them into projects and organizations that were important to her. So it was with me, first into several of her many projects at the Rocky Hill Historical Society, then into FOSA. June was a very special person, unforgettable really, and I will miss her a lot.
  -  Anne Choquette

I first met June in the spring of 1985 when I began codirecting excavations at the Morgan site in Rocky Hill with her husband Dave. David had invited me to do so because of my expertise in Native American ceramics, of which there were thousands at Morgan. I was a young mother with a five year old and a three year old. I didn't trust babysitters, and so I had to bring them to the site with me when their father was at work (We worked Thursday-Sunday at the site). They quickly became bored and cranky. June said "I can solve the problem" and she did -- by taking them fishing in the Connecticut! They caught a sunny and were ecstatic! June always knew how to make their lives interesting while their Mom played in the dirt that first dig year at the Morgan site.
Lucianne Lavin

June Cooke was a generous gardener who was very knowledgeable about wildflowers. She also had an amazing memory. Last summer, at Nick's retirement picnic, she quickly asked my wife Linda how the Horsetail and Soapworts Gentian plants were growing. Many years ago, June and Linda spotted a Horsetail plant thriving in the woods near a dig in Cromwell. Linda wanted one. The following Spring, Dave and June arrived at our home with a surprise, a fine Horsetail, our living mementoes of a wonderful couple.
  -  George Kinsella

June, ever the naturalist. How many birds did she adopt and name from that Hudson River School back yard? The flora there under June's tutelage was beyond Rocky Hill perfect. June always found time to paint colonial scenes and find mud puppies to share from the local streams. She had a sharp sense and pride in local history and was very community minded. June was quite the silent storm. June and Dave Cooke made quite the pair. They opened their home and their hearts to all. Prime examples of "The Greatest Generation", they will always be missed and remembered. Glad they are finally together.
  -  Len Messina


June was the first,
    or certainly among the first,
To see a void,
    a need,
        where others saw mere nothing.
A need to help keep alive
    our yesterdays,
        in our todays,
            for our tomorrows.

The first
    to see the need,
      the void,
          and to see that it was filled.

      -  Jim Hall