Current accolades just the latest of a long, successful writing career
LANSING, Ill. (May 6, 2023) – In the ever-evolving field of journalism, remarkable individuals continue to create impactful stories that shape communities. One such individual is The Lansing Journal’s own Marlene Cook. With a decorated journalism career spanning over five decades, Cook has contributed to countless local publications and has received more than 200 writing awards throughout the years.
Most recently, Cook was chosen to be the Illinois Woman’s Press Association’s 2023 Communicator of Achievement nominee. This prestigious award is the highest honor bestowed by the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) and is meant to recognize “members who have distinguished themselves within and beyond their profession.”
Despite the lifelong career and numerous accolades, Cook said she never planned on being a journalist. In fact, Cook recalls being bullied by her high school English teacher, who told her that she’d “never amount to anything except being barefoot and pregnant.”
“Of course I believed her. That was in 1952, and at that time, women graduated from high school, got married, and had babies. That’s what they were supposed to do,” Cook said.
And for some time, that is exactly what she did: One year after graduating from high school, Cook married her husband, Henry, in 1953 and went on to have four sons. She also took in two more boys and acted as their legal guardian.
“By that time, I was pushing 30 years old. I was thinking, ‘She’s right. I can’t let her be right,’” Cook said.
Gossip, obits, entertainment
Thanks to a chance encounter at a bowling alley, Cook said she met a reporter who wrote a gossip column for the local newspaper. At that time, Cook was well connected throughout the community, as she was active in the church, and her sons played baseball and participated in Cub Scouts. She was able to provide insider information for the reporter, who eventually offered Cook the opportunity to take over her column.
Although hesitant at first, Cook agreed to meet with the newspaper’s editor: “He said, ‘Well, you won’t be able to find much information to begin with,’ but he didn’t know I had been giving [the reporter] the information! Then he asked me, ‘Do you have a typewriter?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Good thing he didn’t ask me if I knew how to type!” Cook said.
And so began Cook’s career. She began writing obituaries and eventually became the entertainment editor. Through clever means, Cook eventually trained herself to become a better writer by teaching herself the “newspaper style” of writing.
“I made carbon copies of everything that I wrote, and then I would compare [my piece to the published version] to see how it was edited,” Cook said.
After serving as a correspondent for the Harvey Tribune from 1969-1972, Cook went on to write for other publications such as The Southtown Star and the Chicago Tribune. Cook has also written countless newsletters and served as a campaign writer for various political parties. She even has a few books under her belt.
Last year, Cook joined The Lansing Journal team as a researcher and history writer after being approached by publisher Melanie Jongsma. While Cook said she never thought about writing for the Journal before, she was thrilled to come on board.
Since her first article, “Lansing history: The fire at First Reformed Church,” Cook has contributed over 20 extensively-researched pieces sharing the (sometimes lost) history of Lansing.
Cook has shared tales about local landmarks, such as the Ford Hangar, and even the century-old mystery of the murder of Bohemian Joe. Cook’s articles are consistently popular, often garnering thousands of online hits along with multiple likes and shares on social media.
“I think that, at my age, still writing and still getting compliments about my writing is really satisfying. Being nominated for the Communicator of Achievement award was a real ego boost. I said, ‘My head’s getting so big, I can’t get through the door!” Cook joked.
Communicator of Achievement
With such an impressive writing resume, it is no surprise that Cook has been nominated by the Illinois Women’s Press Association for the 2023 Communicator of Achievement award. In fact, this is not the first time Cook has been honored: she was also nominated in 1982, 1998, and 2003. In 2015, Cook was presented with the Lifetime Member Award by her IWPA colleagues, who refer to her as their “North Star.”
Cook has been nominated most recently because of her Lansing Journal articles.
In addition to her 50 plus years of writing experience, Cook has also been heavily involved in each of the communities she has lived in throughout her lifetime. She has volunteered for and served at local organizations or festivals such as the South Holland Heritage Festival, the Dolton-Riverdale Veterans Memorial, the South Suburban Literacy Council, the South Cook County Girl Scouts, the Calumet Council of Boy Scouts of America, and the Lincoln Highway Coalition, just to name a few. Cook has also taught catechism during vacation bible school, hosted cable television shows, coordinated fundraisers, and provided publicity for countless events and groups.
There is no doubt that Cook has led an impressive life and has had an incredible career: “I was able to travel; I went to Korea. I learned to do a lot of things; I took skydiving lessons and skiing lessons. I did a lot of things that I would never have been able to do otherwise and met people that I would never have been able to meet. I’ve met presidents and first ladies, the queen of Holland. It just has been a great ride,” Cook said.
Despite the challenges that come along with researching elusive information and her struggle with macular degeneration, Cook has no plans to retire from journalism. She said, “I have a lot of ideas [for future articles]. … I’m going to keep on as long as I can, as long as my lungs and my brain hold out. I’m not going to quit.”
She certainly proved her high school English teacher wrong.
The 2023 Communicator of Achievement award winner will be announced at the National Federation of Press Women’s annual conference in Cincinnati, Ohio in June. Cook’s work for The Lansing Journal can be found on her writer’s page.
Kudos to Marlene Cook, and also to Katie Arvia. I think if I were one of the other nominees for this award, I don’t think I would expect to win this year. Marlene Cook should be the winner.
I agree, but your play was a great piece as well.
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