Robert L. Cooley: The legacy of a visionary

Without the vision and contributions of one Robert Lawrence Cooley, it’s safe to say that the MATC we know today would be very different.
As the founding director and first president of the institution, Cooley successfully navigated the various problems that arose from creating an untraditional school from scratch.
Faculty, budget, policy, facilities…all issues Cooley dealt with from his first office, a desk in the corridor of the eighth floor of City Hall.
Cooley did so with complete focus on the lives of those that would benefit most from the school, a principle still understood by staff today.
“Cooley believed that we should tailor the curriculum to the needs of the student.  Everyone who works at this institution understands his vision,” said Instructional Chair Kevin Mulvenna.
One staff member with a personal connection to that vision is Cathy Lechmaier, a Student Affairs coordinator with over 30 years of history at MATC.  Lechmaier is a grand-niece of Cooley’s. Although she was never able to meet Cooley before his passing in 1940, older family members describe him as a driven educator committed to his students.
Lechmaier finds inspiration in his work and it’s a reason she strives to continue it.   “I would hope that he would smile down upon me and say that’s exactly what I wanted you to do was help students down their educational path,” Lechmaier shared from her office at the Oak Creek campus.
Cooley’s legacy reaches beyond the spirit and drive of MATC staff.  Years before the construction of the downtown campus was completed, Cooley stood near an empty plot of land on 6th and State streets and declared, “A building will rise here. We will have shops and classrooms, offices and assembly halls.”
Robert W. Tarbell, an assistant principal who worked alongside Cooley, wrote about this legacy in the May 1944 issue of Industrial Arts and Vocation Education magazine. “And that shadow stretching away from the walls of the school he built seems not to take shape from the brick and mortar.  It is not ominous but full of promise, the lengthening shadow of a great man.”
Each year, new MATC students are welcomed for an orientation session in the Cooley Auditorium, located inside the very building Cooley imagined so many years ago.
Administrators speak about the workings of the school and the expectations they have for students.  The students are likely unaware of the history of MATC and the man whose vision made it possible for them to occupy the seats in the assembly hall that carries his name.
But it is with them that Cooley’s legacy will carry on as they walk proud through the corridors of this institution and into the classrooms and into the futures he always thought possible.