Former Benton Harbor Mayor, Wilce LeVan Cooke, 83 of Benton Harbor, MI went home to be with the Lord on August 2, 2021, at home.
Wilce LeVan Cooke, a lifelong citizen of Benton Harbor, Michigan was born to the union of LJ Cooke and Elizabeth Walker of Arkansas on June 18, 1938. He was the first child and only son among his three sisters, Frances Koonce, Rebbie Eichelberger, and Margo Norwood, growing up in the Flats enclave of Benton Harbor. He accepted Christ in his life and was baptized at an early age at Union Memorial AME Church in Benton Harbor.
Wilce attended Calvin Britain Elementary and Bard Middle School before graduating from Benton Harbor High School in 1958. He earned his Licensed Practical Nursing degree from Oakland Community College, Rochester, Michigan; an Associate Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Lake Michigan College, Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1975; and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1977. While there he received a National Upper Division Scholarship and was named a member of WMU Honor’s College. He also obtained Adult Education Instructor Certification from Model Cities Program/Area Five School and training from the Mayor’s Leadership and Advance Leadership Institute. In 2018 Cooke was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Andrews University in honor of his distinguished life of service, leadership, and integrity.
In 1968, as the only male nurse in Southwest Michigan, he began his 50-yearlong distinguished service at Mercy Center, which later became Lakeland Health Systems and is now part of Spectrum Health. During his healthcare career, Cooke also served as a nurse at the Benton Harbor School-Based Clinic and Benton Harbor Teen Center in the 1980’s. He also taught in the Benton Harbor Area Schools Medical Assistant Program in the 1990’s.
In addition, Cooke was actively involved in the political, public, and civic life of his local community and beyond. Beginning in 1977, he served in different capacities and on several Berrien County and Republican Party committees, commissions, and boards at the local, state, and national levels. He also served as three-time Mayor of the City of Benton Harbor from 1981 to 1987 and from 2004 to 2011. In July 2018, Benton Harbor City commissioners approved the name change of City Hall to the Dr. Wilce L. Cooke Municipal Building.
In his post-politics life, Cooke continued to make significant contributions to his community. In 2013, he founded the Wilce L. Cooke Foundation to provide healthcare scholarships to Benton Harbor area residents and enhance healthcare education and health and wellness outreach in Benton Harbor and Southwest Michigan.
He is survived by three sisters: Frances Koonce, Rebbie Eichelberger, and Margo Norwood; a host of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Wilce was preceded in death by his daughter, Marsha Cooke. He also leaves behind his beloved City of Benton Harbor to carry on in his spirit of good works, generous service, accomplishments, and integrity.
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