Monday, November 26, 2012 5:37 PM

Community benefits from commitment to building strong leaders

For the Jerry Cook family, whose roots in the Clovis area go back generations, building a strong community has always involved strengthening leadership in two key areas – healthcare and education. Jerry’s father, Einar Cook, was instrumental in creating the Clovis Unified School District and helping build Clovis’ only hospital.

Tosh, Todd and Jerry Cook

Now five decades since those efforts, the family’s latest philanthropic effort combines both those passions in one $500,000 gift to Community Medical Centers for leadership education in healthcare.

“I serve on a number of private corporate boards and I see that those with great leaders flourish,” said Jerry Cook, owner of Cook Land Company who serves on five local boards including Grundfos Pumps and Community Medical Centers. The gift given by Jerry and sons Todd and Tosh Cook goes towards scholarships for Community employees to further leadership training and a biannual lecture series for employees, physicians, UCSF residents, students and volunteer leaders.

“We’re thrilled with this opportunity and partnership,” said Peg Breen, Community’s senior vice president of human resources. “In order to create a world-class healthcare institution, we must build the capacity of our talented employees to manage the complex and shifting challenges ahead. This gift allows us to reward our great employees and recruit more top talent.”

Rob Saroyan, vice president of Community Medical Foundation, added, "The value of effective leadership in any institution is tantamount to running a successful operation.The Cook Family's philanthropic investment will produce a new generation of leaders and provide Community Medical Centers the ability to recruit within and demonstrating our commitment to be the region's employer of choice. We salute the Cook Family for their willingness to be a true pioneer."

The Cook family has the same aims. “I was thinking about what was important about this community and how could we really make a difference. I came back to two things – education and medical care,” said Jerry Cook. As a young boy he watched his father convince several elementary school boards to give up their turf wars and join forces to form Clovis Unified and then hire the legendary Doc Buchanan as its first superintendent. “My father was a leader in that fight to unify. He showed the importance of having good governance and having great leadership.”

“During that same time, my father realized it was just unacceptable not to have a hospital in Clovis,” said Jerry Cook. It took 10 years of diligent community organizing, cupcake sales and raffles before Clovis Memorial Hospital could be built on DeWitt Avenue.

“Soon after, my father and that first Clovis hospital board realized they would be stronger if they could join with Fresno Community Hospital. He stipulated that they would hand over the keys if they would build a bigger hospital that would serve the needs of the community. It was controversial because that new hospital was so far out of town but he knew there would be a need some day. Community has subsequently invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in building an even bigger hospital,” said Jerry Cook.

Cook said he’s happy his father had the foresight to push for a bigger, better equipped hospital, because nearly every member of his family has been affected by the availability of good medical care.

“My family has always considered leadership and leadership development crucially important,” said Tosh Cook, Jerry’s son and a Fresno business owner. “Community is already a standout institution and we wanted to give it something extra that nobody has.”

The Cook family hopes others will add to their initial scholarship fund to help develop employees with high leadership potential so that the region’s largest healthcare organization will not have to import top leaders.
Community is partnering with the Advisory Board Company to offer tailored and expedited programs for employees, said Carla Milton, director of organizational development and leadership at Community. The Advisory Board is a global research, technology and consulting firm collaborating with 3,700 healthcare and higher education organizations to find best practices.

In the first year, 30 of Community’s high-potential directors and managers will be chosen for the 18-month certificate program in healthcare operations and leadership. The program will include classroom and project-based activities plus online learning on healthcare leadership, explained Milton.

The Cook family envisions the second half of their gift building collaborations with Fresno State and CART (Center for Applied Research & Technology) high school to use multimedia technology to broadcast lectures further. “The guest lecture series that will bring in cutting edge information that we wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, information on air quality and water borne issues, local cancer issues. We’re hoping it’s cutting edge info that will stimulate research,” said Jerry Cook.

Todd Cook, an officer in the Cook Land Company, said the family is grateful for the chance to give back. “We realize that our family has been very fortunate through hard work and luck, and we understand it’s important to use that to enrich not only our lives, but the lives of the greater community. My son is the fifth generation Cook family member in Clovis, so we have deep roots here. We anticipate being here quite awhile.”

Erin Kennedy reported this story. She can be reached at