Donald Jean Cook

(1920 - 2009)

photo of Don Cook.

Donald J. Cook;
photo courtesy of Galen Cook.

Donald Cook was a World War II hero, whose wounds kept him in military hospitals for more than a year. Nevertheless, if you had met him casually, you never would have suspected that this quiet man had led troops during the Normandy invasion, or had suffered personal losses which would have stopped a lesser person. After World War II, in addition to working in the mining industry, Don became an inspiration to generations of students at the College of Mining and Engineering, University of Alaska, and at Cheng Kung University at Tainan, Taiwan.

Don Cook was born on Valentine's Day, 1920, to Arthur and Ida Cook, in the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon. He spent his early years studying hard, fishing, and helping his father run a food distribution business. At the age of 16, he graduated as valedictorian of his high school class. Don went to work as a mess hall busboy for a Standard Oil refinery in California. But the job didn't last long. At age 18, he was on a ship heading for Alaska, his destination being the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He enrolled in the School of Mines, with the intent of becoming a mining engineer. To feed himself, and to pay his own way, he waited on tables at the campus commons, and spent summers working on gold dredges, most notably, the dredge at Coal Creek operated by Alluvial Gold, Inc., and managed by the former Dean of the School of Mines, and Alaska Mining Hall of Fame inductee, Ernest N. Patty.

The Coal Creek Dredge as it appeared in 2005.

The Coal Creek dredge as it appeared in about 2005;
photo courtesy of the United States National Park Service.

Don also signed up as an ROTC cadet, and was a member of the first four-year officer's program at the University of Alaska. He deferred his mining education as the United States entered World War II. He received his 2nd Lieutenant's commission in 1943, after passing all of the rigid requirements to become an officer. He went on to Fort Benning, Georgia that summer, and later to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for advanced weapons and leadership training. At the age of 24, Lt. Cook led 45 men onto the shores of Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, and quickly became involved in the dangerous hedgerow fighting of the French countryside. After six weeks of non-stop engagement, Don was hit by a sniper's bullet at the Battle of St. Lo, where U.S. casualties were high. For his service, Don was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and received the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. He spent the next 18 months in rehabilitation hospitals in England and later in Walla Walla, Washington. While he was in Walla Walla, he met and married Cora Jacinsky, an Alaskan girl from Ninilchik. Their first son, Wayne, was born in Walla Walla.

Don was anxious to return to Fairbanks and resume his studies at the University of Alaska. In 1947, he earned his Bachelor's Degree in Mining Engineering. His Professional Engineer of Mines Degree was awarded in 1954. Don's academic work on gold mining, and the costs of gold mining, under post World War II conditions, took him throughout the Territory of Alaska to interview miners. The behavior of placer gold in sluice boxes, a life-long interest, was studied through a window in the side of the box. His work remains a major scientific source on the formation of placer gold.

For ten years, Don Cook worked for the United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company, and their Fairbanks subsidiary, Fairbanks Exploration, known locally as the FE Company. It was during this period that Don gained valuable practical mining experience, and became an oft-recognized engineer. Don especially liked working around the big bucket-line stacker gold dredges that the FE Company operated in the Fairbanks district. He became very knowledgeable about the FE dredge fleet, and later published papers on technical aspects of their operations.

But Don's true calling was in academics. After the tragic loss of their two older sons, Don and Cora crammed all of their possessions into a 1957 Oldsmobile station wagon, and, with their two infant sons, Galen and Donald, Jr., drove to Pennsylvania, where Don had been offered a scholarship to attend the prestigious Mineral Engineering School at Penn State University. At Penn State, Cook earned both Masters and Doctorate degrees in just three and one-half years. A new job offer came quickly. Earl Beistline, the Dean of the University Of Alaska School Of Mines, wanted Dr. Cook back in Alaska, to take part in a major restructuring of the university's natural resource program. Don accepted Beistline's offer, and Don and Cora repacked the 57 Olds for a return drive to the 49th State. During 1958-59, a reorganized School of Mines combined the mining engineering and metallurgical programs in what would eventually become the College of Earth Sciences and Mineral Industries (CESMI). Cook was given a full professorship, and worked with familiar names at the reorganized School of Mines, including one of his best friends, Ernest N. Wolff. Both Wolff and Beistline were inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame in 2007.

For the next 25 years, Don taught undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research, wrote technical papers, authored books, and helped to broaden the University of Alaska mining program. There wasn't much demand for the placer gold mining engineers that the school had been turning out, so Cook, fresh from graduate work at Penn State, headed a new, broadened program, with focus on mineral processing, from 1961-1971. Although the transition was not easy, something was working, as enrollment went from a low of 36 students in the mid-1960s, to 114 by 1971. During this time, the Mineral Industry Research Laboratory (MIRL) was established. Cook was involved in all of these new programs, and he became an agent for change and progress while the mineral industry itself was evolving due to changing times. Later successful mineral engineers such as Lawrence (Lonnie) Heiner remembered Cook as one of two or three inspirational professors.

Don Cook with a student.

Don Cook instructs a CESMI student in mineral processing procedures in the Brooks Building on the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus;
photo courtesy of Leslie Noyes.

Don Cook and others observing mine operations in Healy, Alaska.

Donald Cook with Dr. Maneval and others from the CESMI program observing mine operations in Healy, Alaska, circa 1970s;
photo courtesy of Galen Cook.

During the early 1960s, the school, under Don's administration, pioneered an outreach technology program designed for educating Native Americans from bush Alaska, which had been set up by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA-funded program trained mineral technicians for Kennecott Copper's mineral development project at Bornite in northern Alaska. As a result of Don's project, some thirty-five students were hired by Kennecott to work at Bornite; unfortunately, in 1965, the shaft on the property flooded with water, which terminated the venture. Nevertheless, the program was the base for the practical level mining courses that are presently taught throughout Alaska as new mines come on-line.

In 1971, Don took his first academic sabbatical leave, and traveled to Taiwan with his family, where he became CESMI's first foreign exchange professor in Taiwan. Cook had originally wanted to go to Australia on sabbatical, but changed his mind at the instigation of Fred Lu, Professor of Economics at CESMI, who urged Cook to become an exchange professor at Lu's alma mater in Taiwan. At Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, Don served as a professor-in-residence, teaching mineral engineering and mineral processing to graduate students. He greatly enjoyed this new cultural experience. The next year, after returning to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF), Don initiated a student exchange program between Taiwan and Alaska that was sanctioned by UAF officials. As a result, the graduate studies mining program was revamped, and was catching the interest of overseas students. Subsequently, Don was summoned by UAF Chancellor Howard Cutler to organize formal working relationships in academics and industry between Taiwan and Alaska.

Donald Cook attending an exchange gathering in Taiwan.

Donald Cook attending an exchange gathering in Taiwan, circa 1970s;
photo courtesy of Galen Cook.

In 1979, Cook returned to Taiwan as a visiting professor. This time, he established a research agreement between UAF and Cheng Kung University, which resulted in more than a dozen professors from both schools meeting every three years at alternate universities to discuss topics of common interest. The first exchange sent more than a dozen people from Fairbanks to Taiwan.

After twenty five years of teaching at the college level, Don retired from UAF. His retirement lasted two months. A new UAF Chancellor asked Don to come back to the university and serve as the Dean of the reorganized School of Mining, Petroleum and Geological Engineering. Don couldn't refuse the offer, and he also became the Director of MIRL. He steadfastly held that post until 1990, when he took a retirement a second time after 30 years in academics.

Now over 70 years old, Don came out of retirement again, this time to take a newly created position with the State of Alaska. He returned to Taiwan to work as Alaska's trade representative. In 2002, Don was appointed by Governor Murkowski to serve as a member of the Alaska Minerals Commission.

In 2009, Don passed away peacefully at the age of 89. He left behind his wife, Cora, and sons Donald Jr., an employee of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and Galen, who is a practicing attorney. Don J. Cook left behind a legacy of loyal service to Alaska's mineral industry. During a lifetime, he was the recipient of many academic achievements, professional awards, and notices of distinction. His quiet, confident manner helped many students get through the often arduous course work he himself had assigned. Although the core of Don's professional career was solidly rooted in academics, research, and teaching new mining engineers, he never forgot his own experiences in the Alaska mining industry, Alaska mineral exploration, and with Alaska's miners themselves.

Compiled by Charles C. Hawley and Galen Cook.


Cook, Donald J., 1983, Placer Mining in Alaska: University of Alaska School of Mineral Industry, Mineral Industry Research Laboratory (MIRL) Report 65, 157 pages.

Noyes, Leslie M., 2001, Rock Poker and Pay Dirt-the History of Alaska's School of Mines and its Successors: University of Alaska Foundation, 711 pages.

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