By David Fleet
Brandon Twp.- A World War II hero and local enterprising business owners are the 2017 inductees for the Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame honoring former Brandon High School and Ortonville High School graduates.
Pvt. Leo Flood along with Clark and Lori Cook will be formally inducted into the Ed and Diane Donaldson Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame, in a Sept. 21 ceremony at Brandon High School, 1025 S. Ortonville Road. Plaques bearing their names and photos will adorn the high school entrance wall located between the aquatic center and central office. The honorees will also be included in the homecoming parade Sept. 22 and recognized during the Brandon Blackhawks football game that evening.
“This has been a really fun project,” said Matt Outlaw, district superintendent. “I have enjoyed talking to so many alumni and community members as we have collectively taken a stroll down memory lane. We have worked hard to make contact and learn about the pathways of many of our district’s exemplary alumni.”
The district began seeking nominations early this summer for the Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame, named after Ed and Diane Donaldson, long-time employees and supporters of the Brandon School District. This year there were 14 nominations considered. The Donaldson family has made a financial contribution to the district to fund plaques honoring current and future inductees. Criteria for nominees include having graduated from Brandon High School at least 10 years ago (or being a graduate of the former Ortonville High School) and distinguishing themselves in the years since leaving the district, whether through career achievement, civic involvement, volunteerism, philanthropy, service to our nation, contributions to the Brandon-Ortonville community, or outstanding leadership.
“I was very pleased to see how many Brandon graduates have gone on to do great things and others that are well on their way,” said Outlaw. “The community should be very proud of what Brandon graduates are doing here and across the country. As a district, this program will provide a strong link between our past and our present. Who we are as a district today, is a result of the efforts of those that came before us.”
“As superintendent, I am extremely proud to be honoring Leo Flood and Clark and Lori Cook on our Ed and Diane Donaldson Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame. They have done great things as Brandon graduates and will serve as wonderful role models for our students for years to come.”
Brandon High School Junior Noah Cox has spent the past two months tracking the life of Pvt. Flood—his story itself is an amazing example of bravery and valor.
“Flood graduated in 1943 from what was then Ortonville High School and was immediately drafted into WW2,” said Cox. “After receiving training in Georgia, he became part of the famed 88th infantry division of the army, helping liberate Italy from Nazi rule.”
“Leo’s moment of valor and the reason for him receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star awards occurred in July of 1944,” he said. “During a bombardment by the Germans, one of the officers in a nearby company was hit by a shell. This shell blew the officer out of his fox hole and severely injured him. Leo got out of his own fox hole, treated this officer for his wounds and then gave his fox hole to the officer. Unfortunately while digging himself a new fox hole, Leo was hit by a shell and died from the resulting wounds in a nearby Italian hospital on July 14, 1944. Leo’s story is one that demonstrates the ultimate sacrifice that’s been made many times before in order to preserve our American way.”
Flood is buried in the Oxford Cemetery. His bravery in action was shared in the book titled, “Blue Devils in Italy.”
“We all owe a major debt to those like Leo, and I think honoring him on the alumni wall is the right thing,” added Cox.
From the battlefields of Europe to cornfields of Brandon Township—Brandon alumni continue to demonstrate exceptional leadership.
For more than 30 years Clark and Lori Cook of Cook’s Farm Dairy, 2950 East Seymour Lake Road have provided many local youth their first employment opportunity.
Clark grew up on the family dairy farm and as an agricultural student at Michigan State University during the fall of 1979, was given a class assignment to write a comprehensive business plan using the family farm that would, in theory, increase profits. At that time Cook’s Farm was selling their milk to the Michigan Milk Producers Association, a cooperative owned and controlled by dairy farmers throughout the state.
Clark and dad John bottled the first milk in 1982. Clark’s plan was to halt selling the milk to the MMPA and construct a processing plant for the 300 gallons of milk they produced each day at the farm. The plan also incorporated the idea of putting milk into plastic bags, popular in Canada at the time and creating a drive-up window for local customers to purchase the farm fresh milk.
“I received a 92 percent grade on the project second highest grade in the class,” recalls Clark. “Then I came home and built the plant breaking ground in 1981. In February 1982 we sold our first gallon of milk to area resident George Miller. The idea was to have farm fresh milk with a drive-up window about 70 percent of our business picked it up that way.”
“About a year later milk sales were down the plastic bags were hard to promote,” added Clark. “So in 1983 we started making ice cream with the extra milk producing about 135 gallons per hour sold in plastic tubs. ”
Clark and Lori, both 1979 Brandon High School graduates were married in 1984 and have worked together producing a variety of popular local dairy products.
Today, Cook’s Farm Dairy employs about 25 workers in the summer and 17 during the winter months. The milking cows are hormone-free, providing the local area dairy products and hamburger. More than 20 flavors of ice cream are sold from their East Seymour Lake and other retail outlets.
“Before McDonald’s, we were the largest employer in the township,” said Lori, who serves as the bookkeeper and human resources manager. “The workers bale hay, dip ice cream and help with the cows until they go back to school in September.”
“One of greatest rewards during our years as local business owner is watching so many young individuals come through our doors for their first time jobs, succeeding and then heading off to college,” she said. “Without their diligence we don’t have a business. We have been so blessed with such a great group of kids—they are the face of our business. The youth we employ are an outstanding example of the youth in this community and the school district.”