Bill Cook’s Legacy

When Indiana entrepreneur Bill Cook died on April 15, he left a legacy not only as an innovator of medical devices but also as a generous friend to the marching arts.

The first time I heard the story of Bill Cook came at the start of my second visit to Bloomington, Ind. During my first visit—as a college editorial intern with Halftime Magazine—I attended the 2009 Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships. Though I participated in marching band through high school and college—most memorably as drum major of the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band—this was only my second drum corps experience. Little did I know I would return less than a year later to interview for my first full-time job as a sales representative for Cook Medical.

The Cook story is that of the quintessential entrepreneur— a man who started a multibillion-dollar company with a $1,500 loan and a blowtorch—but his legacy reaches much further. Cook and his wife, Gayle, have donated tens of millions of dollars throughout Indiana.

Cook’s $35 million donation saved the West Baden Springs Hotel, once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, from demolition. His $15 million gift to Indiana University athletics remains the largest the department has ever received. But perhaps his most interesting contribution came when he founded a drum corps with $1 million.

Cook Inc.’s headquarters reflect its founder’s fondness for music and the marching arts. In the executive offices, framed posters of the Star of Indiana greet visitors.

Carl Cook first introduced his father to drum corps when he asked to watch the DCI championships for a school band project. Carl later marched with the Colts and aged out in 1984, planting the seed for a corps in Bloomington.

From 1985 to 1993, Star finished in the top 10 of DCI each year, including a championship in 1991. Then, the corps evolved into a stage show known as “Blast!.”

The achievements on and off the field for this corps stem from the generosity and competitive drive of its founder. Bill Cook was not the type to send a check in the mail and be on his way. Corps veterans remember the billionaire travelling with Star, often taking shifts driving the bus and dressing up in costumes to celebrate show themes.

On the Star website, Cook gives advice to others: “When starting a corps, please remember that the task is massive, thankless, and demanding. Drum corps is the master and you are the slave. In the end, it will be worth the result— young people with life-long memories of achievement and friends. Is starting a drum corps worth the trouble? You damn right it is worth the effort. Don’t talk about it—do it!”