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Teacher is now her own student

--- Benefit for Darien woman is Sept. 29

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Sept. 17, 2007, 2:22 p.m.)

What you see driving through Darien can be directly attributed to Lynda Cooper. Those you meet in Darien have been touched by Lynda Cooper. Through the years events, services and happenings in Darien have been due to the efforts of Lynda Cooper.

Cooper has spent her life giving to her community through her church, teaching, the community organizations and independently, said Pastor John Mancusi of the Darien Community Baptist Church.

"She has given her life serving others," Mancusi said. "She's just an awesome woman whose body is withering on her right now."

Five years ago Cooper was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that enable us to move slowly die in ALS victims. It usually begins in the arms and legs, then moves to the muscles that allow us to speak, swallow and breathe.

It's an especially difficult disease because victims' bodies slowly die but their brains are perfectly intact, trapped inside a body that can't move or speak.

"That's the one thing that Lynda wants all to know-that she is not the disease," he said. "Her mind is still as sharp as ever."

So much so that she spent last winter programming her computer anticipating the time when she can hardly move her hands and talk--now. From her computer she can choose her clothes, turn on lights, changing the TV and VCR.

"Her whole routine is in there and so is a manual with every part of how to take care of her and pictures. It's her way of being as independent as she can."

Cooper spent her life teaching students with cognitive disabilities. Showing students how to speak when they couldn't was a special gift she shared.

Cooper now uses a wheelchair all of the time and her speech is being affected, so she's now using the tactics that she taught her students for herself, Mancusi says.

Reading and education are keystones in Cooper's life.

 "She was key in bringing the new library to Darien," Mancusi said. "She and her mother traveled all over the bizarre places just to learn about people and places.

"She's the kind of person you wish everybody was; she's a really cool lady. It's so sad to see this happening."

Cooper's mother, Sybil Cooper, was her best friend and only family. She passed away in 2005.

"That's why we've stepped up and put this benefit together for her," Mancusi said. "Her church family is the only family she has left.

"She's given so much to us and our community and it's our turn to give back to her."

The Lynda Cooper benefit will be Saturday, Sept. 29, noon-7 p.m. at the Darien Library/Senior Center. There will be a silent auction, pig roast and more. For more information, call 882-5200.

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