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Dewey Cooper, evangelist who built dozens of roadside signs, dies at 93

Evangelist Dewey Cooper, left, with the help of the Rev. Bruce Dunford, right, and his son-in-law Stanley Hull from Jamestown, Tenn., worked on the 33rd of Cooper’s trademark signs along Ky. 90 outside Monticello on April 9, 2002.
Evangelist Dewey Cooper, left, with the help of the Rev. Bruce Dunford, right, and his son-in-law Stanley Hull from Jamestown, Tenn., worked on the 33rd of Cooper’s trademark signs along Ky. 90 outside Monticello on April 9, 2002. Staff file photo

Evangelist Dewey Cooper, a United Baptist minister from Russell Springs who built dozens of roadside signs exhorting people to seek salvation, died early Friday. He was 93.

Cooper’s daughter, Debbie Conner, said Cooper died as a result of a blood clot that formed after he fell Thursday.

Cooper preached in scores of churches in Southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, as well as on the radio, on the street and in jails and nursing homes during a career that spanned nearly 60 years.

But he received perhaps the most attention for about three dozen eye-catching roadside signs he built in several counties in Southern and Central Kentucky.

The signs consist of two placards angled to be visible to drivers coming from either direction, with a 10-foot cross rising above. Cooper painted the signs bright orange and included a picture of a clock showing time running out to be saved.

“Be prepared. Jesus is coming,” one side says. The other says “Warning. Jesus is coming. Are you ready?”

Cooper told an interviewer in 2002 that while some people might go to church only a few times in their lives, people traveling past couldn’t ignore the signs.

Cooper paid for the signs with donations and his own money and got permission from landowners to put them up.

Ronnie Peters, a United Baptist pastor from Tennessee and longtime friend of Cooper’s, said Cooper told him he hoped the signs would make people think.

“He just wanted them to really consider about their own soul,” Peters said. “His whole life was centered around his ministry and serving the Lord and trying to get people saved.”

Cooper started installing the signs in the late 1990s, when he was about 75. He was a widower who had grieved deeply after his wife, Margie, died in 1993.

Conner said that on one oppressively hot summer day when her father would have been in his 80s, she was driving to Liberty and spotted him on a ladder touching up one of the signs.

“He just grinned” when she stopped to ask whether he should be working in the heat, she said.

Cooper had operated a clothing store and a hardware store but gave them up to focus on ministry.

People who knew Cooper said he was a powerful preacher but a man of great humility who prayed about every decision.

Her father gave away much of his money, Conner said.

“Never said anything bad about anybody. He lived what he preached,” she said. “He was loved by a lot of people.”

Cooper had not been physically able for several years to install more signs or maintain the ones he’d put up. Members of a church in Jamestown had taken on the work of maintaining the signs, Conner said.

However, Cooper never stopped trying to persuade people to accept Christ, Conner said.

In the years after he stopped building signs, he put together religious newsletters using an electric typewriter his children had given him, and he continued preaching, Conner said.

“The Lord doesn’t expect us to just float along,” Cooper said in a 2002 interview.

The Sunday before he died, he had driven to Oneida, Tenn., to preach.

“I guess I would say he was the most dedicated man I ever knew,” Peters said.

Cooper is survived by Conner and a son, Rickey Lynn Cooper, as well as four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

His funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT Sunday at Bernard Funeral Home in Russell Springs.

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