Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award: Wilce Cooke
Wilce L. Cooke has been a nurse for nearly 50 years, most recently in the emergency room of Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph. He also has served as mayor of the city of Benton Harbor from 1981-1987 and 2004-2011.
Wilce earned his associate degree in political science and sociology from Lake Michigan College in 1975 while working as a nurse at Mercy Center, which later became Lakeland Health, in his hometown of Benton Harbor.
He transferred to Western Michigan University, completing his bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology in 1976 and has since dedicated his life to serving his hometown community.
As mayor, he participated in the implementation of significant developments within the city, including Harbor Shores, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, and the Whirlpool Corp. administration building.
In addition to his stints as mayor, Wilce has been a Berrien County Commissioner, a member of the Berrien County Planning Commission, served on numerous committees and advisory boards, met with U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter, and founded The Wilce L. Cooke Foundation in 2013.
Wilce credits his mother for teaching him about the “power of education,” and Lake Michigan College, and in particular, political science professor Daniel Roach, for leading him to run for public office, and working in service for the betterment of the community he holds dear.
The Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Wilce Cooke in 2019.