Past & Present
Raymond Cooper talks about early years, business
By Sonia Duggan
Not many people have witnessed progress in eastern Dallas and Collin Counties the way Raymond Cooper has.
Land he once farmed in his youth is now populated with a network of roads, homes and businesses. In fact, the local businessman and founder of Universal Transformer originally located in Wylie, is always on the lookout for a good deal. His ability to anticipate real estate opportunities led to his other business, Land-Tex Realty, in 1970.
Today, at 88 years old, Raymond isn’t ready to retire. The father of three, grandfather of 6 and great grandfather of 12, confessed that he doesn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have to work.
He loves his work and loves his family, and for the last few decades he’s managed to surround himself with both.
“I’ve always loved what I do, and I love to work, so I’ve never had a bad day,” Raymond said.
His children, Jan Morgan, Chris Cooper and Mark Cooper, would probably say he doesn’t have to work as the three now own Universal Transformer. Two of Raymond’s grandsons, Jan’s son Jonathan Morgan and Mark’s son Ben Cooper, also work for the company.
Like clockwork, Raymond rises before sunup each day and gets what he calls “an early start.” Two to three days a week, he drives to Farmersville to the business he founded 63 years ago. He’s at his desk by 5:30 a.m. at the Universal Transformer office and Chris and Mark usually arrive an hour later.
“I still do some work and put some of the prints into the plant for production, but really they wouldn’t miss me if I never turned up,” he says with a straight face.
Jan, a retired WISD school teacher, also works at the Farmersville operation a few days a week doing accounting and payroll work much like her mother once did.
Routinely, Raymond works until 9:30 or 10 a.m., then heads back to Wylie to the nonprofit he’s taken on as a personal mission for the last 27 years, Wylie Community Christian Care Center. At the Center, he works alongside volunteers a few days a week for an hour or two helping with whatever needs to be done.
Raymond’s next stop, depending on the day, is his Land-Tex office located off Hwy. 78 in Wylie where he works with his son-in-law, David Morgan, a retired NTMWD executive. Raymond still serves as president of Land-Tex but the plan is for David to take over when Raymond feels comfortable letting go.
By around 3:30 in the afternoon, this longtime executive is ready to call it a day. “I’m usually very well bushed,” he said.
Work hard and you’ll survive
Raymond’s work ethic is not uncommon for someone born during the depression era. As the youngest of 12 children (9 boys, 3 girls) born to a farmer in 1932, he was expected to help with chores from the time he was small child.
His parents started farming in Murphy, then later Garland, before ending up in Sachse where his father had over 200 acres of uncleared land.
“He borrowed money against that 200 (acres) to buy another 100 acres,” Raymond said. “But then 1929 came and he lost all of it.”
That loss forced the Cooper family to move to Buckner Boulevard in Garland where they helped farm 6,000 acres of community farmland.
“And that’s where I was born,” Raymond said.
Three years later, his 54-year-old father passed away, and life for the large family became a tale of survival.
“Mama was a tough old German woman,” Raymond said. “She said, ‘We aren’t going to be poor. We aren’t going to be put in a home. We are not going to let this family separate.’ And she stuck with it.”
His mother took a $1,200 insurance payment and made a down payment on a farm near old Sachse Road in 1936 where the family relocated and lived off the land.
Not all the brothers and sisters were still living at home when their father died, said Raymond, “but I had about five bosses (siblings) on the scene, and finally, I just got to where I wouldn’t do nothing.”
He says his mama ran the household like the Army and they were required to do certain things which took a lot of work off of her.
She washed (clothes) once a week; an all-day process in a time when water had to be heated first. “And then on Monday, she usually baked about eighteen loaves of bread,” he said.
Raymond’s mother was, and still is even years after her death at 95, an inspiration to him.
“She always did the right thing,” he said. “When we killed a pig or something, she always sent food down the road to the poor folks – and we didn’t have nothing – so I’ve often thought what shape are we in if we considered them poor?”
Raymond said although he never went to bed hungry, there were times when there wasn’t anything but milk or bread to eat.
“So, I never did go hungry and I still don’t know what it’s like to be poor,” he said.
Starting at a young age, Raymond always had a job. “I didn’t work every day, but I had a job every day,” he said.
One job in particular brings back memories.
“When I was 9 years old, I was paid to top onions,” he said. “You got 5 cents a bag to top them and cut the roots off and the top off. I made 30 cents on Saturday.”
Raymond confessed that the money he earned at that young age was spent on some bad habits.
“Right at the corner of 544 and South Ballard, there was a filling station there,” he said. “I bought three sacks of Bull Durham (tobacco) and a pink looking soda pop and a peanut patty and still had a nickel left.”
He says his mother whipped him a thousand times for smoking.
“She never could figure out where I got the smokes, but Mr. Stone across the road, if I’d go milk his cow for him, he’d give me some tobacco,” he said. “If she’d known that, she would’ve killed him.”
Raymond considers himself lucky that he was of an age that escaped being called to war.
“You’re too young for one, too old for the next one. That was me,” he said. “It would’ve had to gone on another year or two for me to get into World War II, then I was still too young for Korea. Then I lucked out on the next go around and then I was too old after that.”
He fulfilled his military obligation at a signal school in Georgia followed by 7 ½ years in the National Guard in the 49th armored division which reserved out of Love Field.
“I never had a (summer) vacation because we had to spend two weeks at a camp somewhere,” he said. “We went to Fort Hood and then down to lower Louisiana – ain’t anything down there other than snakes and sand.”
Raymond says he didn’t fit in the military because he didn’t like people telling him what to do.
His older brothers weren’t as lucky. One of them – brother No. 6 – flew 103 missions in a VMFA-251 fighter plane.
“He had two (planes) shot out from under him over the ocean and survived to tell about it,” he said.
Brother No. 8 barely survived after being captured in Salerno, Italy and spending 27 months in a German concentration camp. Another brother, says Raymond, “made two or three real bad landings down there (South Pacific) and had lung disease and all sorts of things that he picked up in the jungle.”
Cooper’s family farmed up until the war was over in 1945.Then, because there wasn’t going to be enough brothers left to run the farm, they moved
to Garland where Raymond attended school for four years at Liberty Grove, then finished up in Garland.
College wasn’t an option for the younger children in the Cooper clan but his oldest brother went to Wesley College in Greenville, then went to SMU.
“On down the line they pretty much got educated until the 30s. When the 30s got here, nobody else went to college,” he said. “They had to work.”
Despite the fact that many, including Raymond, didn’t attend college, he said all of them wound up pretty successful, especially his brother who founded Cooper Concrete and Plano Ready Mix.
At 19, Raymond and Sue Anderson, a former Garland neighbor and off-and-on girlfriend, decided to marry after he declared to her, ‘You know, I don’t know if I’ll ever find anybody that would be suitable, other than you.’ And she responded, ‘Well, I kind of felt the same way, let’s get married.’”
“That’s the way it started and it lasted 68 years,” he said. “We never really had a serious argument or disagreement all of those years. I know I felt very fortunate and I hope she did.”
When he was young – about 12 or so – Raymond recalls lying under the house one summer trying to get cool, and at the same time, trying to determine the best way to profits, money and fortune.
“And I decided at that point the only way to do that is to have something that someone would pay you to use, but you kept it,” he said.
Eventually, the budding entrepreneur received hands-on training in a field that would later bring him much success.
“I was very, very, lucky,” he said. “I went to work at Texas Instruments for a little over a year and worked with one of the transformer engineers there.”
At 24 years old, Raymond left TI after being invited to be plant superintendent for his former TI boss who started a company with a co-worker. A few days a week after work his boss tutored him on the side, said Raymond, “about the rudimentary elements of designing transformers – not towards electrical engineering – just transformers.”
The training worked, and Raymond jokes that “some of it caught on.”
“It was narrow and limited, but it was very adequate for what we were doing,” he said.
When his bosses sold the company, Raymond knew he was going to be the first person to go.
“So, when I got the chance, I came out to Wylie and put in a deal,” he said. “I talked to one of these guys who made fish tanks and he paid 50 cents apiece for these coils that put the air bubbles in it and I talked him into giving me 75 cents (each) for 10,000 of them, then I would revert back to 50 cents and he could depend on delivery. That’s how I got enough money to start.”
Armed with a few hundred dollars, Raymond set up shop just off Ballard Avenue manufacturing magnetics and magnetics for sound systems.
“In today’s economy, if you don’t have a quarter of a million, don’t start, but back then I had $375,” he said. “And how I made it, I don’t know.”
His second year in Wylie, Raymond built a free-standing building at 1000 Cooper Drive, near what is now Walgreens. When business was booming, he employed about 45 workers at one point. Jan reports that her dad was often asked to give local kids jobs, which he did, and when she helped him move his office, she said he had a filing cabinet filled with W-2s
His biggest customer for many years was Klipsch, a manufacturer of high-end speakers for stereos.
“Now our volume isn’t that big in numbers, but the dollars are 100 times more than it used to be,” he said. “For example, that .50 cent item now would be anywhere from $2.75 to $4 each.”
Today, he said the company is building transformers for the oil industry more than anything else.
“Our customers sell corrosion control for pipelines and well casings, anywhere there is steel in the ground, it will corrode, unless you put something on there to keep it from it. And what we do is we build a high-powered magnetic transformer that reverses the natural flow of electrons from the steel to the ground.”
Wheelin’ and real estate dealin’
Raymond’s childhood philosophy of having someone pay you for something you keep came true when he had the opportunity to buy a twelve-unit apartment house in Garland. That decision prompted him to form Land-Tex to handle his land and property deals and build one of Wylie’s first office buildings off Hwy. 78.
“Anybody that does land is going to make mistakes,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate that most of my calls have been right. The first big
sale we had was on that corner there where Walgreens was. I had $1,400 or something dollars in it and we sold it for enough money to buy our new plant in Farmersville.”
His plant on Welch Drive in Farmersville was built in 2000 on a 5-acre corner lot near Wylie Drilling. Over 20 years later, it is a network of buildings, some with heavy duty machinery, where transformers and other items related to the industry are made.
As a land investor, Raymond believes in buying farmland, not trees or creeks, and if you have land that someone wants to put a street on, he says to “let them.”
“I don’t care if a street goes from nowhere to nowhere,” he said. “If somebody wants to put a street on your property for free, take it. Sooner or later, something will land on it.”
Raymond said he’s learned you can never make a mistake in real estate if you’re strong enough to hold it.
“Sooner or later it will come around. It just inevitably does,” he said. “Most of the mistakes I’ve made in real estate were by not buying or something or selling something way too soon. I owned about half of those buildings in town (Wylie) at one time and I sold them too soon. It wasn’t just a short time after I sold them that they doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled [in price].”
As a resident of Wylie with businesses in and out of town, Raymond has networked and contributed extensively to help grow the city to what it today. He helped rebuild the sidewalks and install the antique lights downtown, donated a baseball field and concession stand at Wylie’s first ballpark, served on countless boards, helped organize the Chamber and helped organize the Wylie Economic Development Corporation, of which he served as president twice.
“We had some people here that didn’t want the Economic Development Cooperation, believe it or not,” he said. “That was something that didn’t cost the Wylie residents anything.”
With help, Raymond rallied community support for the EDC.
“I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten that passed by myself. But we got it done and it sure has served a good purpose. And it’s caused us to have some nice parks and some nice looking parkways.”
Raymond has been recognized over the years for his leadership, generosity and civic involvement. He was named one of the 21 Most Influential Citizens of Collin County and he was one of 100 Collin County residents that helped secure the enabling legislation for Collin College, which will debut its Wylie Campus this month.
Christian Care Center
Raymond’s good friend and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Wylie, Reverend Al Draper, was one of the original founders of the Christian Care Center, along with an alliance of pastors. When they needed a building, Raymond donated two lots for the first location on South Ballard Street and began to recruit volunteers to start the first building. As president, he didn’t run the day-to-day operations, but he invested time, and plenty of his own money, to create a trust where funds could be directed, and later invested, so the Center could sustain itself.
“Our original motive, and Brother Draper agreed with me 100%, was I figured that someday we’d have to hire at least a part-time manager and I wanted enough income other than using people’s donations to pay it if we ever had to.”
Before the trust got strong, Raymond said he had certain businessmen he could call on and get money from, including himself, so they could pay all the Center expenses so any donated money could be used to help those who needed help with food, rent and utilities.
He says his dedication to the mission of the nonprofit kept him out of local politics.
“I always felt like whatever I was doing, I would think that a political office would’ve been detrimental to that because you picked up 50% opposition and I wanted to get money off everybody in town,” he said. “That’s been a driving force from that standpoint.”
There’s no doubt he has single-handedly raised more funds for the Center than anyone, and in the early years of fundraising, Raymond became a supporter and collector of Wylie artist John Pototschnik. He would commission paintings of local historical landmarks, then later auction prints by the artist, and various other items, at the two main fundraising events for the Center: the Taste of Wylie and the Christian Care Golf Tournament.
“He is an important and irreplaceable blessing to Wylie,” Pototschnik said. “I have benefitted from his wise counsel over the years and am pleased to have worked with him in support of the Christian Care Center.”
As the city grew, the needs grew. Thanks to another land donation by Raymond years later, a new, larger Christian Care Center was built at 103 W. Brown Street. It is now managed by longtime friends and volunteers, Mary and Ron Warkentine, who, according to Raymond, should be able to manage the operations for the next several years.
“Raymond still handles the mail and finances for the Care Center,” Mary said. “He still stops by almost every day that we are open and helps restock food shelves and checks to see if we need anything.”
In his youth, Raymond said people in need would depend on the generosity of the community, a philosophy that still holds true. His caring and generous spirit has impacted many over the decades.
“The other day, a guy came by and handed in a check for $200,” he said. “We had helped him two years ago when he was out of a job. That gives you a lot of satisfaction.”
“It’s been a fun run for me,” he added. “I put a lot of work in, but I’ve been enjoying all of it.”