Jefferson Award Winner Jim Cook: Changing Lives in Sparta - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Jefferson Award Winner Jim Cook: Changing Lives in Sparta

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Sparta, Wisconsin (WXOW) --- The idea to connect the walk and bike paths in Sparta by bridges happened over a cup of coffee.

"I got involved with Rheinhard Mueller on the first bridge and we drew it out on a piece of napkin at the restaurant," said Jim Cook, the October Jefferson Award Mueller.

"We kept talking about why don't we promote the City of Sparta and one of the creeks that run right through the town that's known as the best trout stream within the county. The first one came and then the second one came which is down by Ben Bikin' and we put that together. The day started that we had six inches of snow," said Cook.

Jim and his five friends, one a Jefferson Award winner as well - Rheinhard Mueller - call themselves The 5 Shovelmen because they do all the work on the Sparta bridges. To date, they built five. The men design the bridges, get the material and even raise money for the projects on their own. 

"We wanted to make Sparta known for something other than the bike trail but we expanded it to using it for not only the bikes but snowmobiles and walking trails. It just led from one to the other and now we're looking for another place to put a bridge," said Cook.

Cook's wife says the bridges are works of art for all to enjoy. "They're all different and they're unique and well constructed and they just add to the prettiness in the park and the community," said Joan Cook.

Jim does more than build bridges. Where there is a need, he provides help. "He lost his arm in a serious accident and his wife had a stroke and of course he couldn't build a ramp. I've helped ladies that have lost their husbands like they need window covering hung and stuff like that," said Cook.

The day Jim turned 36 he was no longer a member of the Jaycees, a civic engagement and leadership group. Jim says this was a blessing in disguise. If he hadn't aged out he wouldn't have started a much needed Boy Scout Troop. Today there are many successful men because Jim helped keep them on the right track.

"In some cases they were single parent situations. You basically become the father. You become a sounding board and they have problems that they don't want to talk to mom and dad about. They'll sit in the tent and talk to you as long as they have the respect for you," said Cook.

Some days the aches and pains start to kick in but Jim says the best way to beat that is keep moving. "I feel good about it, I really do. It's something you start out with an idea and you see it develop. I don't care if you're building a bridge or digging a ditch. Same thing. It's just the happiness in someone's face. That's what I look for. A nice thank you is all you need," said Cook.

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