Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NEIGHBORS >> A Coca-Cola Christmas in Lonoke

By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

It’s always time for Coca-Cola and Christmas at the home of Don and Wanda Cook at 1381 N. Johnson Road in Lonoke.
“I would go to flea markets looking for jewelry, and 13 years ago I bought a couple of Coca-Cola pieces because they were so cheerful with the red and white,” Wanda Cook said.

“It just grew and grew.”

The massive collection has gained Cook the self-appointed title of “that crazy Coke lady.”

She credits her husband Don, retired from Union Pacific, with helping her with her collection and the giving the tours.
There’s even a chalkboard sign on their front porch proclaiming “One crazy lady and one really nice guy live here.”

In amassing the collection, the Cooks found out that the Coca-Cola Company was battling lagging sales in the winter so in 1931 the company commissioned Chicago illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint a Santa Claus for advertisements. In recent years, Coca-Cola began including polar bears in their winter advertisements. The bears now appear on nearly as much merchandise as the Sundblom Santas, so the Cooks decided to make the living room a tribute to Coca-Cola at Christmas.

A few years ago, the Cooks decided to leave their Coca-Cola Christmas decorations on display inside and outside all year long even if it means replacing burned-out Christmas light bulbs in the middle of summer.

“I also collect dust bunnies,” Wanda Cook joked, wiping at a display cabinet.
The Cooks have a Coca-Cola themed kitchen with dishes, glasses and silverware bearing the famous logo.
There is also a Coca-Cola bedroom, dining room, bathroom and “fun room” which is reminiscent of a soda-fountain shop.
In the “fun room” the Cooks have Coca-Cola cans and bottles from more than 65 countries on display as well as planes and ships made from Coca-Cola cans.

“People ask me how much the collection is worth and you just can’t put a price on it. So much of the collection has been given to me,” Wanda Cook said.

Ten years ago the Cooks invited her grandson’s second-grade class at Lonoke Primary School to tour the collection. Ever since then, every second grade at Lonoke Primary School takes a December field trip to the Cook’s home to view the Coca-Cola collection.

Wanda Cook dresses in a red-and-white Coca-Cola waitress ensemble that matches a Barbie doll as she guides the second grade tours through her home, explaining the joys of collecting and pointing out a few of her favorite items.

One such item is a miniature Coca-Cola bottle brought to her by one of the second graders from the first tour ten years ago.
This year about 100 students toured the Cook’s home, enjoying the Coca-Cola themed house as well as some of the motorized gadgets Wanda Cook shows them such as Coca-Cola planes, clocks, telephones and a bubble machine.

The tours end in the “fun room” where students get a six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola to drink, compliments of the Coca-Cola distributor in Little Rock, and two cookies that are shaped like the familiar hourglass curves of a Coca-Cola bottle.

“I call them Cokees. It’s just a simple sugar cookie recipe and I shaped a snowman cookie cutter into a Coke bottle,” Wanda Cook said.
She then dips the cookies into chocolate to represent the cola and a little white chocolate to represent the caps of the Coca-Cola bottles.
“The most fun of collecting is sharing it with others. That’s the blessing of it,” Cook said.