Caledonia ambulance service the first recipients of grant money from Jim Cooper Foundation

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper

By Daniel E. McGonigle

General Manager

The Caledonia Argus

Jim Cooper got the EMT/EMS itch during his time in Caledonia.

Cooper would go on to become a fixture in the emergency services industry, working a long time as the director at the Spring Valley ambulance department.

He was well-known to many in Southeast Minnesota, and EMS volunteers across the region looked up to him.

“He was a substitute teacher in Caledonia and he joined the ambulance service and found his calling,” said current Caledonia ambulance director Mike Tornstrom.

In 1988 Cooper moved to Spring Valley and worked as their ambulance director until his retirement in 2014.

Cooper passed away on Sept. 17, 2015.

On Saturday, March 18, an unveiling of his foundation at the Southeastern Minnesota EMS Conference in Spring Valley was held.

Many small-town EMS groups struggle to be able to get the funding they need, which was why Cooper’s family was there to help.

“A lot of the southeast Minnesota volunteer ambulance services are not in existence as much as they used to be,” Judy Cooper, Jim’s Widow, said. “We want to keep our small town ambulances going as much as we can.”

So a donation was made in Cooper’s honor. Not to the Spring Valley department where he spent so many years, but rather, to where it all began, the Caledonia Ambulance Department.

“We were so honored,” Tornstrom said of being the first recipients of the grant dollars. “Through his memorial, the funds are used for EMS needs.”

More about Cooper

Cooper started his career in Caledonia in 1974, and Tornstrom still recalls working with Jim.

“He was a good mentor, and he was a great educator,” Tornstrom said. “He did a lot of positive things for the city of Caledonia.”

“It was an honor to be recognized where he started and where it all started for him professionally,” Tornstrom said. “I think Jim got the EMS bug in Caledonia.”

The department received a grant in the amount of $2,500, which Tornstrom expects will be used for “several of our equipment needs.”

Tornstrom said the Cooper family recognized the need for Caledonia to finally move forward as an “ALS support level” squad.

The funds will help the department achieve that goal.

When Tornstrom began in his role as Caledonia’s ambulance director, he said Cooper was on speed dial.

“He was a great resource for me in 2007 when I started in this role,” Tornstrom said. “He knew our issues and challenges inside and out and he always was in uniform. Always willing to help.”

Tornstrom appreciates the family recognizing how significant the relationship was to both sides.

“Like I said, I’m honored that they chose us,” he said.

The family hopes through the foundation’s work, that they can help small Southeast Minnesota ambulance services to do the important work they do. They hope that the financial burdens these small departments face can be eased by honoring Jim’s legacy.