Centerville, Iowa -- It's the place many in town felt they needed to be on Saturday morning, the First United Methodist Church. Hundreds gathered to share in the loss of something that still feels surreal.
“Mike Cooper known to us as “Coop” is and will always be a special man to all of us,” says Centerville Fire Chief, Vern Minburn.
The 61 - year - old firefighter died last Saturday after a fighting a massive warehouse fire but friends say he died doing what he love.
Cooper's passion and dedication earned him the title of Centerville’s longest serving firefighter. Many in the town thought of him as a hero but 37 years on the job taught Cooper humility.
“Many of us have seen in the movies the firefighter goes into the building then emerges with human life. In the town Centerville that firefighter was Coop,” says Milburn. “But anyone who knew ‘Coop’ knew he never would puff his chest and look for recognition.”
Despite what Cooper may have wanted, the town honored and recognized him.
“It draws a lot of attention it reminds people something special is going on and that’s what it’s all about,” says Larry Echkardt.
Eckhardt traveled from Illinois with a 25 by 40 foot flag to pay tribute to the fallen firefighter while more than two dozen Iowa fire departments did the same.
Albia Fire Chief, Mike Gray, says “You got trucks down here from over an hour and a half away so that kind of gives you an idea how it works.”
Community members say they were lucky enough to have a man willing to serve for as long as he did.
“37 years that’s a long time to take care of a community,” says Donna Jackson. “I have to be here and just to honor the firefighters, the town, everybody.
An estimated 400 people paid their respects at the funeral. Cooper leaves behind a teenaged son.