Coy and his wife

Coy and his wife

Citizenship comprises rights as well as responsibilities and duties. To become a citizen of the year, therefore, necessarily implies that the recipient is someone who has fulfilled their responsibilities and performed their duties. No less can be said of Coy Cockrum.

Born in a Franklin County farmhouse near Sesser, Coy has called Benton and its surrounding area home all of his life, always honoring his family and heritage. The son of Coy and Wilma, whose identities were almost synonymous with Rend Lake, Coy is first a devoted and loving son who sets the example of honoring ones parents by his relationship with his Mother.

Family is the eternal and unending bond for Coy, who is married to his best friend, Vickee, and the patriarch of a family of four children and eight grandchildren. From his 89 year old Mother to his youngest grandchild, Coy leads his family in a spirit of committed service and excellence. His Mother–Wilma, Sister–Connie, and Brother–Danny remain an integral part in the Cockrum circle of life, always moving forward toward accomplishing the next goal, never being satisfied to remain stagnant or to ignore a call to service.

After graduating from Sesser-Valier High School and Rend Lake College, Coy began his work with Lawrence Lipe and Associates, working primarily with units of local government, and plugging into one of Coy’s greatest God-given gifts, the ability to see and discern needs and the unwavering commitment, creativity and ingenuity to find way–when others fail or give up–to meet those community needs.

When Coy speaks of his local government clients, he addresses them as though they were his extended family, speaking with pride of accomplishments like totally rebuilding water and/or sewer infrastructures in McLeansboro or Zeigler as if he were speaking of a grandchild’s accomplishments on a sports field. Coy identifies with the Southern Illinois community and has invested and devoted himself in improving life for the people he has served.

Since 2012, Coy has worked with Shawnee Professional Services in Benton, though I will tell you that Coy’s municipal clients often say that Shawnee came to work with “our Coy.” As Project Manager of Water and Sewer Developments, Coy has been the catalyst for action in obtaining grants for much-needed projects and in beating down bureaucratic obstacles that impinged upon his “people’s” safety and success. Coy often attains success simply because he refuses to accept “no” as an answer for his clients.

With all of his professional demands, there is no surprise that his work days often exceed 12 or 14 hours. Even with those demands–many that are self-imposed–he has dedicated himself to the creed of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, of which he is a “servant member.” The creed–ELKS CARE; ELKS SHARE–could as easily be Coy’s personal motto. It fits not only the standards he set for himself in his profession, but also that which he required–and still requires–of his commitment to the Elks.IMG_7356

Coy rose through the Local Benton Elks Lodge #1234 holding virtually every position available, from Exalted Ruler to janitor. No job was too big or too small. No task was too demeaning; No request was too big or inconvenient. Through recognition of his unique brand of dedication, Coy also rose through the ranks of the Southern Illinois District of the Elks, holding all offices at the District level.

Coy’s uncompromising service caught the eye of all of the members of the Illinois Elks Association, and he began the unselfish and oftentimes unrewarded climb through state-wide offices in that Association before being elected as President of the Illinois State Elks Association in May 2014, a reward earned and a level of respect commanded by very, very few, especially by very few in our rural Southern Illinois area. But Coy’s Southern Illinois values–and charm–may well have been what set him apart and endeared him to the State-level electorate of the Elks.

Through the years, Coy has not used his positions in the Elks for personal advantage or recognition. Indeed, at times he stood up to questions about–and persists in pressing to meet the need for–State and National funds for Southern Illinois events. He has worked with and empowered a committee of Elks from across Southern Illinois that annually hosts an opening weekend picnic for Department of Children and Family Services wards at the DuQuoin State Fair, providing food, carnival ride armbands, and even gas cards for foster parents so that the most-disadvantaged children of our area could have one special opportunity to enjoy something that would have otherwise been out of their reach.

Coy will tell you that “others” did the work. That is one of Coy’s principle strengths. A team player, he enjoys and is invigorated by enabling and empowering others to accomplish goals that would have been beyond the ability of one solitary man. Whether one calls this “paying it forward” or “sharing the wealth,” I call it the discernment that comes with wisdom and the wisdom that comes with a life well lived.

Coy has masterminded an Elks-sponsored golf tournament–THE JOHN MCFARLAND TOURNAMENT–for more than 16 years raising in excess of $40,000.00 in college scholarships for local students. He has ardently and unwaveringly supported what used to be called the Crippled Children’s Fund, and what now is known as the Elks Children’s Care Corporation, a program that for more than 85 years has provided clinical evaluations and child-specific needs to disabled children.

Most recently, the family of one of those students receiving an Elk scholarship shared that when she was born prematurely and spent the first month of her life in a neo-natal intensive care unit, the isolette in which she slept that month was marked, “Donated by the Elks.” Like Coy’s own family, his work encourages and facilitates that ubiquitous circle of life.

Most recently, Coy’s lodge assisted a 16 year old paraplegic young man, whose family’s financial resources had been exhausted meeting his other needs, in getting hand-control devices added to the family’s old pick up truck so that this young man could experience independence and continue the journey toward education and a life of fulfillment. Coy and the ripple effect of his Elk dedication has effected more individuals than could fill this room, always quietly….always respectfully.

Coy’s commands–never demands– a cadre of similarly-quiet and yet responsive and responsible volunteers because he leads by example. There is never a “crack” in meeting the needs of his clients or of someone asking for assistance from the Elks, because Coy will either pick up his phone and dial up someone who can immediately respond, or he will do it himself. The level of accomplishment that this typifies is striking, because no one ever says “no” to Coy because it is always and inevitably known that Coy will never ask someone to do something that he is unwilling to do himself. Instead, he builds the team and motivates the team to win the prize–and for Coy that prize is always altruistic, often difficult to accomplish and usually done with an under-the-radar stealth-like quietness to protect against embarrassment.

Bear Bryant, when asked if he was disappointed in never having coached a Heisman Trophy winner responded to say that he coached teams, not individuals, and that is truly typical of Coy Cockrum, because he wants the best prize for others rather than ten solitary minutes of fame.

Coy’s motto as President of the Illinois Elks Association is that it is time to talk about Elks. How typical that is of Coy, for he uses his personal accomplishments to highlight the needs of the many and to talk about the successes of others in meeting those needs. Tonight is our opportunity to turn the tables on Coy and to spotlight and talk about his diligent service and accomplishments over the years, his ability to uplift and inspire, his unfailing commitment to excellence–personal and corporate.

Coy has helped the Benton-West City area through water systems, sewer systems, and engineering of infrastructures that contractors have built. His greatest accomplishment, however, is how he has built an infrastructure of respectful dedication to the purpose of a different kind of community re-investment–the kind that comes from within.

Coy Cockrum’s legacy is not only having built water and sewer systems under the pavement but in having instilled deep within the people he has touched a personal desire and drive to serve and a hope for and belief in a better tomorrow for those who serve with him now and long after him. Coy’s “Citizenship” is the creation of a legacy of service that is unparalleled.

This years inductee as Citizen of the year–the person who sets the example for us all of duty and honor personified–Coy Cockrum.


Rhonda Gilbreath president of the Chamber

Rhonda Gilbreath president of the Chamber