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“We do what we do because we care,” Kathy Cooke said about the nonprofit she and her husband, Ron, set up to benefit artists and arts organizations, including many in Las Cruces.
The Cookes started A Still Small Voice 4U Inc. (ASSV) in 2015 to encourage and support “arts, music, literature, culture and community,” said the couple, who divide their time between upstate New York and Las Cruces.
Both Ron and Kathy grew up in New York – Ron near Albany and Kathy near Syracuse – with Depression-era parents who taught them to spend frugally and save money, they said. Both also had successful careers in New York – Ron in state government and IT consulting and Kathy as a teacher and curriculum specialist and state government.
“We’re not spending our children’s inheritance because we don’t have children,” Ron said.
Using their personal resources, the Cookes partner locally with the Children’s Reading Alliance, Tombaugh Gallery and the Las Cruces branch of the American Association of University Women (Girls Can and Tech Trek programs). They also supported a Las Cruces concert for Sharon Katz’s Peace Train Foundation, and they support KTAL-LP Radio of Las Cruces, for which Ron hosts a weekly folk music program.
A Still Small Voice also endows scholarships at Doña Ana Community College and SUNY (State University of New York) Schenectady, where the Cookes helped establish the Music Innovation Fund. ASSV is also a major sponsor of the New Bedford Folk Festival in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
A Still Small Voice also sponsors awards honoring Phil Ochs, (pronounced oaks) (1940-76), a folk singer and songwriter who, coincidentally, was born in El Paso and lived for a short time during his childhood in Columbus, New Mexico, the Cookes said. They are fans of Ochs’ music and met his sister, Sonny Ochs, with whom Ochs had been living in New York City at the time of his death.
The Phil Ochs Award is presented annually to a performer or group “whose music and social engagement exemplifies the spirit of Phil Ochs.” Presented in collaboration with Sonny Ochs, the award includes a $2,000 stipend.
The $5,000 Phil Ochs Fellowship is presented each year to Ochs researchers in partnership with Ochs’ brother, Michael, and the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Ochs’ archives are preserved.
The Cookes also sponsor a songwriting contest, which Ron Cooke said is “a natural outgrowth” of the couple’s other philanthropic work. The contest, which usually attracts about two dozen entries a year, is open nationwide, Ron Cooke said, and includes prizes of $500-$1,000.
The awards and recognition are ways to “help artists who are trying to make a living,” Kathy Cooke said. “We need art,” she said. “We need music. We need people to be drawn to issues in a variety of ways.”
“It’s the synergy that happens,” Ron Cooke said. “It’s how you build community.”
Ron Cooke said he often gets emails from musicians thanking him for an award or for playing their songs on his radio show.
The musicians often tell him, “’It’s the first time anybody ever gave me a prize or recognized my music,’” Cooke said.
The Cookes first came to Las Cruces more than two decades ago and continue to spend their falls and winters here. They are avid members of the local bicycling community.
For more information, contact the Cookes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.assv4u.com.