Beloved educator Robert Cooley passes away at 77

Roseville middle school named in honor of former teacher
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Did you know Robert Cooley? Please post your thoughts, memories or comments below.

Robert Cooley, a beloved former science teacher and the namesake behind a Roseville middle school, passed away Wednesday, Feb. 27. He was 77 years old.

Cooley had been battling heart issues since experiencing cardiac arrest in 2008, and was implanted with a heart pump in 2010. In February, he suffered a massive stroke.

“He just absolutely loved his students and all people,” said his wife, Penny. “He spent his whole life helping people.”

Cooley and his younger brother grew up in Arizona, Missouri and California. The family moved to Roseville in 1949. He married Penny in 1958 and the couple bought a house across from Royer Park in 1967, where his wife remains. The couple had one daughter, and raised another foster daughter.

Penny said her husband loved Roseville and was a regular attendee of neighborhood meetings and very involved with Music in the Park.

Cooley’s teaching career began in 1958 and lasted 37 years. He spent most of his career at Warren T. Eich Intermediate School and then George Buljan Middle School in Roseville. He retired in 1995.

“All three of my children — Mike, Matt and Krista — had Mr. Cooley for their science teacher at Eich Jr. High (in the 1970s and 1980s),” said Roseville resident Jo Ann Funk. “All three loved him and his classroom, as did I. It was jam packed with all kinds of critters, fossils and other items to spark their interest in the world around them.”

Funk’s daughter, Krista Bernasconi, is a former Roseville City School District board member and now does public relations for several local schools and businesses. She currently serves on the Roseville Planning Commission.

Tricia Tittle (maiden name Burden), was in Cooley’s Mentally Gifted Minds class at Eich Intermediate School in 1986.

“One of my favorite memories is going to Fort Bragg for a week of exploring tide pools and learning about myself,” Tittle said. “He gave everything he had to his students.”

Although Tittle moved to Colorado in 1993, whenever she would return home to see her family, she would stop by to say hello to Cooley.

“He not only was a great teacher, but he became a great friend as I grew older,” she said. “We got to catch up and he was so proud of the adult I had become. I told him that he was one of those teachers who shaped how I grew up and should take some credit in that. He will be truly missed.”

In all his years of teaching, Cooley only took two sick days. In 2000, Robert C. Cooley Middle School was built.

“Bob was an outstanding science teacher in the district for many years,” said Roseville City School District Superintendent Richard Pierucci. “His classroom was like going on a field trip to the reptile section of the zoo. Bob loved working with the middle school-aged students and introducing them to the wonders of life science. He served as an outstanding mentor to new science teachers and had a love and respect for students matched by few others. Bob truly was an exceptional teacher and person.”

During retirement, Cooley and his wife traveled around the United States in their travel trailer. He was also an avid fisherman. Cooley managed to return often to the middle school named in his honor for campus activities and to visit with staff. Language Arts teacher Anastacia Mavrias-Kelly was a student of Cooley’s at Eich and has been with his namesake school since day one.

“His fever for teaching was something you could not capture,” she said, adding, “Everyone who knew him or encountered him took something away from him … I don’t believe I ever saw him without a smile. His congenial nature and genuine enthusiasm made you feel the next step was possible. It only made sense to me that a school would honor a man like Cooley.”