End of an era for Cook family
This is the second in a four-part series about the properties on Jackson Avenue sold to USD 257 to build a new science and technology building at the Iola High School campus. Part 1 is available here.
Children filled the house at 416 E. Jackson Ave, where Jeff and the late Teresa Cook raised their three children: Andrea McConnaughey, Nick Cook and Megan McKarnin.
A confluence of three factors led to the Cook house hosting an endless parade of kids: It was between two schools; their children were involved in an array of sports; and Jeff and Teresa were heavily involved as coaches.
There were also proms, graduations, meals and snacks with friends before and after basketball games. Teenagers gathered almost daily to play Nintendo or basketball, or just hang out.
The alley behind the house, which separates the Cook property from a parking lot and the high school cafeteria, often served as a sort of thoroughfare during the school year, especially during sporting events and activities at the high school.
And if all that didn’t bring enough children through the house, you’d find rugrats galore at the daycare and preschool Teresa and daughter Megan McKarnin operated in the converted garage at the back of the house. Teresa, who died of breast cancer in 2012, ran the preschool and daycare more than 20 years.
“It was organized chaos. I miss seeing all the kids around here, especially when they had a good day and you’d see their happy faces,” Jeff said.
“Every kid in town knew my wife. Now everybody and their brother knows Megan.”
Megan took over the preschool and daycare, continuing to operate out of the garage until June, when she and a friend, Hayley Western, opened a new daycare and preschool, Munchkinland, at a former church at 401 S. Walnut St.
The business move came about partly in necessity. Jeff Cook is among four owners who sold his property to USD 257. The houses soon will be demolished to make way for a new science and technology center at Iola High School, part of a $35 million project that will build the new science center and a new elementary school at Kentucky and Monroe streets, and replace aging heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school.
The sale of the house and its demolition brings an end to an era, not only for the Cook family but for the house itself, which could be nearly 150 years old.
An abstract of title and a copy of a document signed on behalf of Abraham Lincoln shows the property’s history dates to 1861, when the General Land Office at Fort Scott transferred the land to Joel L. Jones.
THE HOUSE is older than it looks, Jeff said. He’s researched its history and learned the property dates back to the Civil War era. At the Allen County Historical Society, Jeff found a document signed on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln, recording the sale of 40 acres from the General Land Office at Fort Scott to Joel L. Jones. The original abstract of title on the property dates to July 10, 1861.
The house probably isn’t quite that old, but it could be close. In his research, Jeff found a reference to the house in the 1870s.
He’s found photos of the house at the historical society. The oldest, believed to be from the late 1800s, shows a dirt road in front of the house, with an ornate wrought iron fence encircling the property.
The property was sold multiple times for delinquent taxes, the abstract shows. It was owned by at least two churches, the Reform Church of Iola in 1884 and later St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, which used it as a parsonage.
That’s who Cook bought the house from in 1987. He and Teresa were newlyweds, soon to start their family. Teresa opened the daycare in the early 1990s; Jeff works as an electrician for Hoffmeier Electric. His boss, Gary Hoffmeier, grew up next door.
When Jeff and Teresa bought the house, it was red. They painted it before installing siding. They remodeled much of the home over the years, including the conversion from garage to daycare. During those remodels, Jeff often stumbled upon square nails and old oak floors, remnants of the house’s early history.
IT TOOK a metal detector to find the silver lining — make that a silver and diamond lining — in the historic home’s demise.
Daughter Megan shared the story of her mother’s lost wedding ring. Teresa, in a fit of anger at her husband in 2009, threw her wedding ring into the kitchen. She immediately began a remorseful search for the ring, to no avail. Family and friends continued to search for the ring, off and on, over the next decade, even after Teresa’s death.
With the sale of the house and its impending demolition, the family knew time was running short. They would literally tear the house apart to find the ring. They cut a hole in the kitchen floor and searched under the floorboards for hours. No luck.
A chance conversation at a garage sale led to Iolan Rick Schulenberg, who offered to bring his metal detector to the hunt. Within minutes and with the removal of some carpet and laminate flooring, he located the missing ring.
“What an amazing day and a great way to say goodbye to my childhood home,” Megan said.
Jeff Cook displays copies of photos of the house in its early days. The lower photo shows a dirt road and wrought iron fence around the property.
JEFF KNEW he’d have to downsize sooner or later.
After his children — daughters Megan and Andrea McConnaughey and son Nick — grew up and started their own families, and after the daycare moved, the house felt empty. At 2,350 square feet, three bedrooms and two baths, the house is too much for one person, he decided.
The school district’s offer to buy the house came at just the right time.
Jeff and his girlfriend, Teresa Ligon, purchased a two-bedroom, single-story house in Iola and have moved. It’s a much quieter neighborhood. No more worrying about all the high school students speeding in their vehicles through the alley behind his house. No more unfamiliar cars crammed into his driveway during prom.
The school district granted “stripping rights” to the displaced property owners. Perhaps more than his neighbors, Cook took that to heart. He took everything he needed from the home, then offered it to family and friends. One of his daughters took the windows. Others took siding.
“I knew people could use bits and pieces,” he said. “Better than seeing it in the landfill.”
He supports the district’s efforts to improve school facilities, in spite of the lost personal and community history.
“This house was something we could grow into. I raised my kids here,” he said. “It’s kind of sad to see it go.”
Coming Thursday: The sale of their home allows Sandy and Jamie Mosbrucker to get a jump start on planning for retirement.