'Beano' unforgettable to two from district
He's been gone from this world for two months but poignant memories of Carroll Hoff “Beano” Cook remain solid for Don Jones and Randy Jesick.
Cook, who was 81 when he died Oct. 11, was the legendary sports information director at the University of Pittsburgh and also gained national attention as a television sports commentator on ABC and ESPN. He also was a familiar figure at sports banquets in this mid-Monongahela Valley for a number of years.
“When I read about Beano's death, it brought back a lot of pleasant memories,” said Jones, a Monessen native who now lives at Fisher Heights in Carroll Township.
Jones, a standout basketball player at Monessen High School where he was graduated in 1953, received a scholarship to Pitt. He was recruited by longtime coach Henry Cliff “Doc” Carlson, who retired in April 1953, and later played for Robert Timmons, Carlson's successor.
“As part of their scholarships, athletes at Pitt were given jobs at the school,” Jones recalled. “During my freshman and sophomore years I worked in the library, but I had the opportunity to work for Beano in the Sports Information Department as a junior and senior. What a blessing it was to work with a man that loved Pitt sports as much as he did.”
Jones said he and Cook became “good friends” during his final two years (1955-57) at Pitt.
“Beano was always willing to take time to help me with my English writing class,” Jones said. “And when I became discouraged about the lack of playing time on the basketball team, he constantly told me to concentrate on my studies and the rest would take care of itself. He said, ‘You have a full scholarship to one of the greatest universities in the country and you want to be a teacher, so concentrate on that goal.'”
Jones said “all athletes” at Pitt were equally fond of Cook and enjoyed stopping by his office to talk sports.
“He would always like to talk with me about the respect he had for the sportswriters in the Mon Valley, especially John Bunardzya,” Jones said. “He knew so many people in western Pennsylvania and across the country, but the Mon Valley held a special place in his heart.”
Following his graduation from Pitt in 1957, Jones recalled, he exchanged Christmas cards with Cook for a few years and “then lost contact with him.”
“The next time I saw him was at the Bellmar High School sports banquet at the Twin Coaches supper club in December 1960,” Jones said. “He was one of the guest speakers that night. I was the assistant basketball coach to Kenny Clark. Beano saw me, came over and said, ‘Congratulations. You have fulfilled your dream of becoming a teacher and coach.' I responded by saying, ‘Thank you for everything.' I wanted to let him to know I would always be grateful for the experience of working with him at Pitt. In knowing Beano, I had the privilege of having a wonderful mentor but more important, a memorable friend.”
Jones later was an assistant basketball coach at Thomas Jefferson High School and retired from teaching in 1988. He wasn't idle very long, however, taking a job six months later as a guidance counselor at Westmoreland County Community College, where he worked 12 years before retiring.
The soft-spoken and personable Jones is a familiar figure to visitors, patients and staff at Monongahela Valley Hospital, where he volunteers as an Ask Me greeter.
Mentor to many
Jesick, a 1960 graduate of Bellmar High School, also regards Cook as a mentor.
“When I transferred to Pitt after my freshman year at Gettysburg College, my neighbor Johnny Bunardzya suggested that I work as a student assistant for Beano,” said Jesick, the longtime chairman of the Journalism Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “I had worked occasionally through high school as a stringer for John, and he even offered to call Beano to set up an interview. At the interview, Beano asked me to write two stories and send them to him – sort of a writing test. I had to write an advance game story and a feature. He jokingly reminded me not to have John write the stories because ‘I know Bunardzya's writing style.'”
The stories must have passed the test, Jesick said with a laugh, “because Beano hired me.”
“My meal ticket was my pay for working in his office,” Jesick said. “That summer before starting my sophomore year at Pitt, Beano sent me to Pitt's pre-season football camp at Allegheny College in Meadville. I had a relaxing two weeks going to practice twice a day, eating lots of good food with the players in the cafeteria, staying in the dorm (as Beano's roommate), getting to know the players and writing a feature a day on players as assigned by Beano.”
Those daily essays were important, Jesick said, because Cook “was always big on not neglecting the small-town and medium-size newspapers.”
“That's where all of my feature stories came from that first summer and, in fact, all that I wrote during the next three years went,” he recalled.
“And just about all of them were used. I remember that Beano had a practice of driving around western Pennsylvania and the entire tri-state area every summer to visit the local sports editors.”
In addition to writing features on all kinds of Pitt athletes from football players to pole vaulters to squash players – “yes, Pitt even had a squash team in the early 1960s” – Jesick worked in Cook's office, pasting news clippings in the scrapbooks and doing other assignments.
“Beano always made certain that I got a job as a spotter in the press box at all home football games, identifying the Pitt players for visiting and/or network broadcasters,” he said. “I usually made $10 or $15 or, one time, $20 for that job. Better than the money was the chance to meet and assist some big names in broadcasting and sports figures from the past. I have a picture of Lindsey Nelson and me. Two analysts I spotted for were Red Grange and Johnny Lujack. Three pretty prominent names in college football history. I was lucky to have the opportunity, thanks to Beano.”
During Jesick's first year in graduate school at West Virginia University, Pitt was scheduled to play the Mountaineers in Morgantown. A former student, Jay Randolph, the son of U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph, wanted to work as a spotter for the television broadcast, but to identify the Pitt team.
“But Beano insisted that I do that job – out of loyalty, I suppose, but also because I knew the players,” Jesick said. “And I did.”
Jesick communicated with Beano over the years. And he and his wife, Ann, even stopped to visit him at ABC-TV in New York City in June 1966 during their honeymoon.
“He had left Pitt in 1965 for his first network job,” Jesick recalled. “When I began teaching journalism and public relations at IUP in 1979, I invited Beano to be a guest speaker. Much more recently, Ann and I would try to take him to dinner in Pittsburgh before going to the Civic Light Opera musicals in the summer. We invited him last summer, but he said he just wasn't up to it.
“So now he's gone,” Jesick said. “I feel bad that his request that he be spared until after the football championship game didn't happen. But I made certain that the last time I communicated with him that I, once again, thanked him for the major role he played in my life. He definitely ranks up there with John Bunardzya and my English teacher at Bellmar, Ruth Frost, for all their help.”
When Beano Cook died, one of the first things Jesick thought of was a few lines of poetry written by one of Beano's longtime friends, Roger Valdiserri, another Belle Vernon native, who also gained national acclaim as sports information director at the University of Notre Dame. They read:
Nobler bones do elsewhere lie
Each laid to rest with louder sigh
Led to sleep by friends untold
Interred in beds of bronze or gold
But here, no animated bust, as Gray has writ
Marks this creature's humble crypt.
He yearned not riches, nor even fame
Asked but the chance to see each game.
Though echoes and cheers swell to the sky,
His present abode is not that high.
So now he pleads one promise more:
A bending friend to whisper each score.
“Those words speak volumes about a man we will continue to respect and love,” Jesick said.
Don Jones would agree.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.