Corynne Cooper is the General Manager of 111 S. Wacker Fitness Center, managed by FFC. In part one of this three-part series, Corynne shares her family’s history and describes how her parents were early supporters of her love of sports.

As a former gymnast and current fitness professional, I have been asked many times about my professional, personal and athletic background. There is no doubt that my participation in sports growing up has shaped who I am today, but my upbringing has played an equally – if not more – important role in the way I live my life. 

Both of my parents grew up beyond poor. Unarguably impoverished, to be honest. They grew up in South Carolina during a time when they were given used and outdated textbooks in school, had to sit in the back of the bus or give up their seat to a white passenger, had to use a separate unkempt bathroom and water fountain, and they could only use the back alley door to enter businesses. My father, who loves westerns, would go to the movies with his friends, and they would have to use a back entrance and walk up an old creaky stairwell to make their way to the balcony. The entire theater could be empty, but to the balcony they must go, because African Americans were not allowed to touch the premium floor seats.

My father, along with his mother and father and six siblings, grew up in a happy home, but the living situation was minimal. My paternal grandfather was a janitor by day and factory worker by night, and my paternal grandmother was a cook at a social services facility. They had minimal space, furniture and beds and only certain rooms in the house had lights. They could only eat until their stomachs no longer growled — never truly feeling full, fearing they would run out of food. My father witnessed many days when his parents would not eat dinner to make sure their kids were fed. 

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My mother grew up in what some refer to as “the projects” – meager accommodations, to say the least. Her mother was a nurse’s aid and also ironed clothes for a white family who owned a farm in Charleston. My mother would make her own clothes and spent most of her days studying, knowing she had no intention of staying in her current situation. She was a straight A student, very inquisitive and very smart, but she most certainly could not afford to go to college. It wasn’t until her Pastor learned she would not be going to college that her life changed. My mother worked at the local church and the Pastor, knowing how smart my mother was and what she had to offer the world, said her mind was too great to waste. He offered to pay for her first year of college. 

This was their life. When many around them were settling or struggling to get out of a life of poverty and oppression, they both always knew they wanted so much more. My parents are both first generation high school and college graduates. Neither of their parents (or siblings, except for one brother) even finished high school. My parents met in college, married after graduation (and have now been married for 53 years), rented a small bedroom in someone else’s home and took on teaching jobs in chemistry (father) and biology (mother).  

Corynne Cooper with her parents.

My parents had a total of three children, although I am the only surviving child today. After serving in the Army, my father worked at an industrial gases firm (which is what brought them to Illinois) and became their top salesman. My mother stayed home with us while earning her Master’s degree. Once we were older and in school full-time, she went back to teaching. Both of my parents worked their way through their respective professions and both spent many years working in extremely high-level positions within their organizations. My father retired as a Partner and CFO of his firm and my mother retired as a Chairwoman and Senior District Administrator within the school system.  

They provided an amazing life for their children. Every single one of our needs were met, and we had the majority of our wants. I have no clue how they did it, but they did.  They moved us to safe neighborhoods without hesitation so we could ride our bikes and play basketball outside without worry. They sent us to amazing schools and stressed the importance of education. They took us on vacations so we had a sense of the different cultures and lifestyles in the world. They took us to church but also taught us about all religions so we were aware, unbiased and could decide on our own how/if we wanted to incorporate religion into our lives. We took music lessons and were taught multicultural appreciation in hearing music from different time periods and cultures. 

While enforcing education (yes, “enforcing,” my mother was quite serious about our education), my mother always talked to us about being well-rounded, so she also enrolled us in just about every sport known to man – soccer, baseball/softball, swimming, diving, basketball, volleyball, golf, running, football, tennis, and gymnastics just to name a few! This kept us busy. We had zero time to spend loitering at the mall or skating rink. We also had zero time for relationships with the opposite sex. She wanted us to get good grades and pursue Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, but she also gave us an outlet to exert energy and challenge ourselves physically, not only mentally!  

Sports became a massive part of our lives – not only for my brother and me but for my parents as well. Parents, I’m sure you understand – when your child is on a traveling baseball team, for example, it’s a family affair. We had some sporting or music event/practice after school just about every single day and on weekends. By day, my parents were executives and by late afternoon, they became logistically choreographed chauffeurs driving us from practice to practice.

From the time I was 2 to the time I was 21, while running a household and excelling in demanding jobs, my parents did not miss one sporting event or recital. Not one! They were always in attendance no matter where our activities took us, and they were always energetically engaged. My parents were the ones who gave rides home to those whose parents could not attend or waited in the parking lot until the child’s parents arrived. They hosted pre and post game festivities and volunteered for fundraising events whenever possible. Yes, they were “those parents.”

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Post written by Corynne Cooper, General Manager at 111 S. Wacker Fitness Center – managed by FFC.