Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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January 26, 2013

New council president owns a bison farm

LaGRANGE — The new LaGrange County Council President is Peter Cook, owner of Cook’s Bison Ranch in Wolcottville. At the council’s opening meeting of 2013, all present voted Cook in as their next president. The position was vacated by the departure from the council of Jac Price. Price is now serving as president of the County Commissioners.

“I’ve served with Peter now for over three years on the County Council,” Charles Ashcraft said. “I was the one who nominated him for president.”

He said Cook has always pursued information and attended meetings that went beyond the necessary, routine, committee assignments.

“He regularly makes an effort to attend other county board meetings in order to get information that might impact issues he would be voting on in council,” Ashcraft said.

Ashcraft added that Cook is very thorough and, as far as he knows, has never turned down any job handed to him by the council. “He is always ready to take on whatever is needed at the time,” he said. “So I think he will do a great job as the president.”

Another Cook supporter on the council happens to be his cousin, Steve McKowen.

“I am glad he is on the council,” McKowen said. “I have known him all my life. He has a really good business sense and our council can benefit from it. He is approachable and has a good head on his shoulders.” McKowen says both he and Cook took office in order to watch the county spending policies and the best way to achieve that is being on the council.

Thirty-eight-year-old Cook earned a bachelor of science degree in business from Indiana University South Bend. Erica, his wife of 13 years has a degree in education. They have two children Luci, 9, and Levi, 5. They met during his college days in her home town of South Bend. Erica says her main responsibility, besides raising their children, is arranging their numerous agro/farm tours.

Cook’s origins are in farming. He and Erica farm and run a bison breeding and meat processing operation (www.cooksbisonranch.com), along with his parents, Wayne and Sharon, his two sisters, Susan Corkins and Annette Moore. Together they farm and ranch about 1,400 acres between their operations in Indiana and North Dakota. He is also kept busy as president of the National Bison Association.

 A few years back, he wasn’t even thinking about politics, until he was approached by the late Roger Boots. “My dad and Boots’ wife are cousins,” Cook explained. “He served on the council and told me he thought I could do some good by serving on a few committees.” Boots laid down a challenge and Cook took him up on it.

“I served on the soil and water board for six years and I now serve as president of the county’s convention and visitor’s bureau,” Cook said. “When Roger passed away, I ran for council and lost to Mike Strawser. Shortly after that Kay Myers was elected auditor and left her seat on the council. I ran and was elected.”

Cook said what keeps him excited about public service is the interaction between state, county and local government. It is both interesting and challenging.

“It can be really frustrating to try and establish policies that are in the best interest of our county and then the state steps in demanding that you choose from three mandatory options,” he said. “We don’t like any of them. The state doesn’t offer you an alternative, plus they don’t give you much time to reach a decision. After you respond, then the state takes their good old time and might not get back to you with their response for months. Meanwhile you don’t know if you are doing what they want and doing it the way they expect you to do it.”

Admitting he is on a learning curve, Cook acknowledges he has learned you can’t run politics like a business.

“I am learning all the time,” he said. “Besides, I have many people I can turn to for some good common-sense advice.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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