One fine day in September of 2013, Jeffrey and Jonathan Cooper were driving down Highway 77 into Winslow, Nebraska, in Jonathan’s 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier station wagon. The Cooper brothers were returning to a friend’s house in Winslow after Jonathan had tuned a piano in a little town about 30 miles north of Winslow. Jonathan had learned the craft of tuning and rebuilding pianos while attending Bible college in Lawrence, Kansas. It was a nice way to earn a little income while he was traveling around the United States doing what he and his younger brother loved to do, making people smile by entertaining them with Bluegrass Gospel music.
Jeffrey and Jonathan grew up in a musical family. As children, they traveled around the country with their parents and siblings playing gospel music in churches and revivals. Music was the life and livelihood of the Cooper Family. Both Jonathan and Jeffrey were accomplished musicians. As Jeffrey would say, if it had strings, they could play it. Jonathan was also a self-taught pianist and had developed a style of piano not seen very often. He pounced on the keys with both hands like a cat pouncing on a ball of yarn, and he became so good that he received a Sony endorsement which gives him access to state of the art recording.
Jonathan and Jeffrey were in Winslow visiting some friends and also were performing at a local church. The two boys would play the guitar and the fiddle and sing gospel songs. Jeffrey was also a ventriloquist, an art he learned at a young age. He and his doll, Jarid, (don’t call him a dummy), loved to perform and Jeffrey became quite proficient at ventriloquism.
Jonathan was an ordained minister and a part of their show was to invite people into a relationship with Jesus. They witnessed to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people as they demonstrated their God-given talents and shared the Gospel message.
As they entered Winslow on that September day, they were intending to make a right turn after they crossed some railroad tracks. Jonathan put his turn signal on as they crossed the tracks. He was aware that a tractor trailer had been following him for several miles so he was careful to give ample warning. The truck was hauling 80,000 pounds of dirt from Minnesota. You probably can anticipate what happened next. As the truck proceeded to the railroad tracks, the truck driver indicated that he looked both ways for a train, while driving 50 mph. When he looked ahead again, he did not have adequate time to stop and slammed into the rear of the Chevrolet station wagon.
The boys were taken to the local hospital and fortunately were not injured severely enough to be hospitalized. Jonathan’s left shoulder was his primary area of complaint and Jeffrey began experiencing neck and back pain.
The station wagon was damaged beyond repair and some of their musical instruments and sound equipment was damaged beyond repair. Jeffrey had a 100-year old fiddle in the back of the station wagon that fortunately was undamaged. Unfortunately, Jarid received severe injuries in the collision. Jeffrey rebuilt Jarid because he could not stand the thought of discarding him. He was compensated for the damage and I would like to think that I might be the only lawyer to ever represent a ventriloquist doll.
I am happy to report that Jarid returned to the stage and began performing again. In fact, last summer Jeffrey married a spirited redhead named Charlotte and Jarid made an appearance at the wedding. When the preacher, Jeffrey’s future father-in-law, asked if anyone objected to the marriage, Jarid spoke up from the balcony and told everyone he objected because he had been in a box ever since Jeffrey met Charlotte and he didn’t like it. Jarid is now a part of their family.
I had the privilege of representing the Cooper brothers. One of the reasons I love what I do is because I get to meet the most interesting people. We spent three days in Omaha last month trying their case and while the trial did not go as we wanted for both of them, we can honestly say it was one of the best experiences we have ever had in a courtroom. Jeffrey and Jonathan are young men of integrity with no pretense. What you see is what you get.
Jonathan was more seriously hurt than Jeffrey. His shoulder that began bothering him at the scene of the collision ended up requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum. The surgery did not return him to normal and it has affected the way he plays the piano. He can longer bounce on the keys with his left hand and while he can still play with his left hand, the music is not the same. Jonathan and his new wife, Elizabeth, are beginning a new journey, helping hurting churches. Jonathan is called to be a minister and has never been motivated by money. Success will come to the two of them, but it is not measured by the world. Jeffrey still has back issues, but he is now living in Branson and still performing. He will continue to use his musical talents as he builds a life with his new bride.
I will be forever grateful that I met the Cooper brothers. Sometimes when I think about them I just giggle. They entertained me frequently with their stories. One of the best days I have had as a lawyer was the day we traveled back and forth to Council Bluffs for their depositions. They were called to make people happy and you can count me as a fan. If you want a sample of their music, Google the Cooper Brothers Bluegrass on YouTube, or “Jeffrey and Jarid’s Sunday School Songs” and you too will become a fan.
I love the Cooper Brothers
-- Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org