WHO WAS ROBERT COCHRANE?
By Ruth Ann Cochrane, Marilyn Sharp & Darryl Cochrane
Robert Cochrane was the fourth child of Henry and Estella Cochrane. He was born October 21, 1908 in Wilson Township before they moved to the Cochrane-Herron farm and attended the King School as a child. June 13, 1936, he married Louise Arlt in Detroit. Three children were born to Bob and Louise. They were Robert, Marilyn, and Darryl. Robert was a barber at Roy’s Barber Shop in Alpena for many years. He also sang in the Besser Chorus, which had been organized in 1947. He was known for the square dances that he called. He lived his entire life in Alpena County. Bob and Louise’s home was at 136 Wisner Street in Alpena, Michigan. May 18, 1977, Bob passed away. He died of cancer after a 2 year illness, the last 3 months of which he was totally bedridden. His funeral was held at St. Paul Lutheran Church, of which he was a member. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Alpena.
In the Alpena News, May 19, 1977, it was said: Funeral services for Robert R. Cochrane will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul Lutheran Church, the Rev. James Hughes officiating. Mr. Cochrane, 68, of 136 W. Wisner, died Wednesday at Alpena Hospital after an extended illness. He was a retired barber, having been employed at Roy’s Barber Shop. He was a member of St. Paul Church, a 25-year member of Besser Chorus, past master of Hopper Lodge 386 F&AM, member of BPOE Lodge 505, the Eagles, Thunder Bay Council of Unions, and at the time of his death was president of the Michigan Journeyman Barbers Association, an office he had held since 1967. Surviving are his wife, the former Louise Arlt whom he married June 13, 1936 in Detroit; a daughter, Marilyn (Mrs. Alvin) Sharp of Alpena; a son, Darryl of Muskegon; four grandchildren; and two brothers, Donald of Alpena and Oran of St. Louis, Mich. A son Robert D., a sister Lorraine and a brother Lee preceded him in death.
However, that’s a very short record of a man who was much more than a list of memberships and children. Robert and Louise married June 13, 1936, and had three children, Robert Darryl (Bobby), born in 1937, who died when he was approximately a year old; Darryl Robert, born in 1939; and Marilyn Louise, born in 1941.
Darryl stated ‘I have Dad’s Small Catechism showing he lived in Highland Park and not Hamtramck. I am pretty sure he took Catechism in 1938 and was baptized into the Lutheran Church and confirmed then. Thus, I think he moved back in 1938 or early 1939 (to Alpena).’ The family lived in Highland Park for a short time, and then he lost interest in his work in the auto plants there, went to barber school, and returned to Alpena as a barber.
According to Robert’s children, Marilyn and Darryl, he originally had had his own barber shop on the north side of town, but later, he was found working for Roy Marciniak at his shop. The original Roy’s barber shop was on Chisholm Street, by the Owl Café. According to the family, “Roy and Dad were an institution in Alpena – people would stop just to listen to their bantering. They were the best of friends but would entertain their customers with so called ‘bickering’ that was done in good fun.”
The family lived on the farm on King Settlement Road during WWII. (Darryl:) I don’t remember much of it but I do remember a little of the layout of the house. We never used the front door but came in the kitchen door which was in the back. There was a porch outside the door. When you came in there was an old fashioned phone with a crank that you had to turn and a hanging ear piece that you held to your ear. The phone served a number of families (party line) and each family had their own ring. I don’t remember ours, but an example would be two short rings followed by a long. The phone rang a lot and we always stopped to listen to see if it was our ring.
I remember a couple of incidences from the farm. First I remember an accident when a threshing machine which was stationary and powered by a long drive belt which came from a steam tractor had a problem. The boiler on the tractor blew up. As I recall a man working on the machine was either badly hurt or killed in the explosion.
The second incident involved Mother. Dad was working the afternoon shift, probably from 4 to midnight. Somehow the pigs got out of the pen. We had an especially large boar (maybe sow) but it came to the house and was making a lot of noise outside. It frightened Mom and she got you and I and gathered us to her in the living area of the house and we stayed like that until Dad got home.
During WWII, Robert worked at Die Tool Engineering. (Darryl) ‘Dad worked there during the years of WWII. I remember he had to buy his own tools and he had a large tool chest for years with a lot of die tools in it. I remember calipers, rulers and the like. (Marilyn) I have Dad’s tool chest with most of his original tools still in it.
(Marilyn) In the late 1940’s or early 1950’s Dad purchased 40 acres of wooded property from his mother Estella. It is my understanding that this plot was part of the original Cochrane homestead in Wilson Township and was probably logged by them years before Dad bought the property. As a young child I remember picnicking in the field on that property (it is now 6980 Witt Road) and picking blackberries. In 1953 Dad purchased one of the log cabins that were part of the Rustic Pine Lodge on Hobbs Drive and moved it to the hunting property. That was the start of Dad’s other love – the “No Hope Hunting Camp”. A lot of good friends were made and good times were had at the camp. During the hunting camp years, Dad took a big interest in cooking and became known in Alpena for his chicken-lick-daub. Every weekend he would make soup at No Hope and people would just drop in and could depend on being fed. Dad’s saying on seeing more card or snowmobiles pull up in the yard was “Throw more water in the soup!” No one was ever turned away. Before his death he collaborated with his granddaughter Amy Sharp and wrote a “Grandpa Cookbook” when he dictated his favorite recipes. The recipes lack exact measurements and few directions but with some imagination and practice they do work but do not taste like Grandpa’s! Incidentally the No Hope Camp now belongs to Marilyn Sharp so it is still in the Cochrane family and is available for all the family to use.
Bob Cochrane’s Tomato Rice Soup
Cover soup bones with water, add salt, pepper, MSG, carrots, onion, celery (2-3 ribs). Dice the vegetables. Simmer overnight on the wood stove, or if you are not lucky enough to have a wood stove, you can use a crockpot. Then next day, strain the broth. To equal parts of tomato juice and stock, add sugar (pinch), salt, pepper and MSG to taste. Add ½ cup raw rice. Add diced celery and onion. Simmer until rice and vegetables are done. Adjust seasoning and enjoy.
(Marilyn) He was a man of many interests. He was an avid reader. Definitely a Democrat, usually not even admitting there was such a thing as a Republican. He would staunchly back any Democrat running for office. I remember during election years sitting at the dinner table listening to Dad expound on politics. He discussed current events with Mom, Darryl and me, usually every day at the dinner table. Dinner could last up to 2 hours. I also remember that if you used a word that normally wasn’t part of your vocabulary you needed to spell it for him as well as use it in a sentence. He was a real stickler on vocabulary.
(Darryl:) I think Dad started singing in a church. Ralph Michaud was the choir director and I believe he got Dad involved. When Dad and Mother joined the Church in Alpena they first belonged to the Immanuel Lutheran church on the north side. It was Missouri synod. Dad, however, wanted to join the Masons and Immanuel didn’t allow its members to join the Masons. Mother and Dad transferred to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church which had no such restriction and Dad joined the Masons. He ultimately rose to be a 33rd degree Mason, which apparently is a big deal but I don’t know why. He was very active in the Masons and remained so at least while I lived at home. By the way, Roy (Marciniak) joined the Knights of Columbus so that the two of them had both the Catholics and Protestants covered. (Darryl:) He belonged to the Masonic Temple for as long as I can remember and gave a lot of his time to the organization. He was a past Worthy Master.
Darryl recalled that ‘Dad wasn’t keen on singing in the choir at Church and ultimately quit. I think that shortly after that, Ralph Michaud got a couple of men and started the group… the Besser male Chorus (I have a faint recollection that it may have been called something else for a short time at the beginning), and Dad was a faithful member of the Besser Male Chorus most of his adult life.’
When asked about Robert and the making of plastic jewelry, both children answered. (Marilyn:) ‘Dad made jewelry at one point in his life – I can’t remember too much about it so I would think it was in the late 40’s. I wish I still have some samples but unfortunately they have all been lost. He worked in plastics as I recall, making necklaces and bracelets. I think he had an artistic streak and was always looking for an outlet.’ (Darryl:) I remember this well. He taught this at the Boys’ Club to boys in the evening. Cap Wixon (and Ma Wixon) were usually around. Mostly we cut patterns out of sheets of plastic about ¼” thick. Most of the time we used red plastic. Once a shape was cut out, say a heart, the cut edge had to be polished. We did this with fine sand paper and then finished the polishing with a rag and tooth paste. Once the object was polished, a small hole was drilled in the jewelry and a small gold colored ring was put in the hole. The final touch was hanging the object from a gold colored chain.
(Marilyn:) ‘Dad played several instruments as a young man. Violin and guitar were the two main ones. When he was young it is my understanding that he would play at various dances held in the community. Dad was a singer and had an extraordinary tenor voice.
‘In the 40’s he sang in a trio on a local radio show. And, although not an original Besser Male Chorus member, he joined two months after the chorus was started. When the Chorus was first organized you had to work at Besser Company to be a member and of course Dad was a barber. Dad sang with the chorus and traveled as far as Washington D.C. where they sang. The family was honored to have the chorus sing “The Lord’s Prayer” at Dad’s funeral.
‘Ralph Michaud, the then director of the Besser Chorus, was made an honorary member of the No Hope Club and directed the members, Dad, Marvin Rousseau, Bill Hill, Russ Mainville, Arnie Kindt and others on many impromptu concerts. Dad loved to sing and would sing any time he had a chance – I remember riding home from Hawks after visiting my Grandma Arlt that Dad would lead the whole family in singing to pass the driving time.’
Another facet of his love for music was his calling for square dances. (Darryl:) ‘I don’t know how it started but I know he did it for a lot of years. He got good at it and I remember he and mother belonged to a square dance club. Then he started doing it for others and I think he may have been paid for it. I remember he used to go to Posen to call square dances every year. He liked to do this because Governor “Soapy” Williams also went to Posen and called square dances so they worked together on this.’ (Marilyn:) I know he did get paid for his square dance calling and called for several different clubs in and around Alpena. Darryl:) I don’t know how it started but I know he did it for a lot of years. He got good at it and I remember he and mother belonged to a square dance club. Then he started doing it for others and I think he may have been paid for it. I remember he used to go to Posen to call square dances every year. He liked to do this because Governor “Soapy” Williams also went to Posen and called square dances so they worked together on this.’ (Marilyn:) I know he did get paid for his square dance calling and called for several different clubs in and around Alpena.
Darryl remembered the following episode, and asked Marilyn: ‘Do you remember hauling chicken manure for the garden? We had black muck in back of the house and he wanted to enrich it. He bought an old truck – it was really a wreck – and for a number of weeks we went out to a farm near Herron and loaded it up with chicken manure. We had to shovel it out of a chicken house. It was several feet thick on the floor of the house and it was quite a job to load up the truck. We then drove back to Alpena and threw it on the back garden. And finally, for good measure, we had to ‘turn the manure in’. I was very glad when that job came to an end.’
And Robert didn’t stop there. He loved music, being with children, working, having his hunting camp, cooking and hunting and fishing. (Marilyn:) ‘It goes without saying that Dad liked to hunt. I don’t remember any trophy bucks but I remember eating a lot of venison. For several years Louise would also spend time at camp and was known to have shot a deer or two herself. Both of them enjoyed fishing and we spent many Sunday afternoons fishing off various bridges.’ (Darryl:) ‘I remember his hunting at Hawks with Mom’s brothers, especially Jack Arlt. Dad was pretty successful though I suspect that he didn’t always shoot his own buck. With respect to fishing I remember that someone told him there were pike in Bean’s Creek near Lachine. We went out there a couple of Sunday’s in a row and he caught them all out There’s a picture of him holding a stringer of 5 pike.
‘One of the last things we did together – and this was after his cancer started – was to go to Canada fishing. We flew into “Blue Lake” north of Iron Bridge in Ontario. We stayed in a nice cabin. We were fishing for lake trout which means we went early in the year. Lake Trout are hard to figure out sometimes and I remember they weren’t biting for the first couple of days. Finally on about the third day I put a Mepps with a Minnow lure on his line and he began to catch trout like mad. He wouldn’t let me use the lure at all and slept with it under his pillow at night.’
The joys of Dad’s life besides Louise and their children were his four grandchildren: Amy and Stuart Sharp and Thomas and Dana Cochrane. But it seems as though he had many, many joys in his life: music, the outdoors, his family, his friends, his clubs and his ability to share everything he had with others.
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