Oscar Cooler was a persuasive salesman who never gave up when the goal was creating opportunities for young people to play sports.
The Oscar Cooler Sports Complex, at Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Crooked Lane, is named for Cooler, who spearheaded the campaign in the 1970s to build a park with Little League ball fields.
Cooler, a retired carpet and floor covering salesman, died Thursday at age 84.
“He’s a legacy out here,” said 80-year-old Lester “Boddie” O’Steen, who umpired for Lutz Little League for about 40 years. “He was a pillar of the Little League. His life was his children and other children.”
In the 1970s Cooler lobbied county officials for two years before they agreed to buy an orange grove on Lutz-Lake Fern. When he was told it might take two or three years to find money to build a park, Cooler took charge.
He recruited Little League parents, area business owners and residents to raise money and then to volunteer to build the park. O’Steen said they probably cleared about 20 acres. The park opened in 1975 with three baseball fields.
“We had engineers, builders, painters, everything we needed to build a park,” Cooler said in a 2008 interview with The Tampa Tribune. “We had people who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty. Everything that was done, labor-wise, was done voluntarily. Within nine months we built this thing.”
Debbie Cooler said her father-in-law could be insistent when he believed in something. Before volunteers built the park, Lutz had only one ball field for Little League.
“He had an electrifying personality,” she said. “He was quite the salesman and very persistent. They (county officials) kept turning him down. He kept fighting and fighting and wouldn’t give up.”
The sports complex today has playing fields for several sports including softball, baseball, soccer and football. There are also picnic shelters and a concession stand. A major $3.7 million expansion was completed nearly three years ago.
A nature park between the tennis courts and the ball fields also was a project that Cooler and other Lutz activists, including Aura Lee Buckingham, fought to build in the late 1990s. It has a boardwalk, open-air classrooms, picnic pavilions, benches and a play area.
Cooler came to Tampa in the early 1950s and moved to Lutz in 1964.
He and his late wife, Sara, had three sons, all of whom played Little League baseball.
O’Steen said he knew of times when Cooler would reach into his own pocket to pay the athletic fee for a child whose family couldn’t afford it.
“He always stressed to me that regardless of what background or financial situation you came from, every kid should be able to play ball,” said daughter-in-law, Melody Cooler.
Cooler is survived by a daughter, Sondra Turpin, and her husband, Allan; and sons Romney and his wife, Debbie; Marc and his wife, Melody; Craig and his wife, Lynn; and seven grandchildren.
Loyless Funeral Home in Land O’Lakes is in charge of funeral arrangements. A visitation will be held Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home, at 5310 Land O’Lakes Blvd. A funeral service will be Tuesday at 10 a.m., also at Loyless.
For information, contact Loyless at (813) 996-6610.