When students were asked what to name Higley Unified School District’s new middle school campus in Gilbert, they selected a name familiar in Gilbert history: Cooley.
The Cooley family has been farming the Southeast Valley for more than 90 years. Eldon and Elona Cooley purchased the land where Cooley Middle School sits in the 1950s.
When the school and the Elona P. Cooley Early Child Development Center were dedicated in September 2013, Mrs. Cooley participated in the ceremony. She shared the story of being a student in the 1920s and visiting her grandparents’ in Higley.
“Higley consisted of one, small grocery store and was out in the desert. My grandparents lived in a very small lumber house on desert land around this area,” she said.
Her grandparents sold that land during the Depression before they could farm it, but a path was set for the future of farming in the Higley area.
Like his wife, Mr. Eldon Cooley’s family history intertwines with Gilbert’s growth. His parents, Freeman and Pearl, raised their eight children on a Gilbert farm. In 1941, Eldon Cooley started purchasing farms around the Southeast Valley and Arizona. For 40 years he did this, farming cotton, alfalfa and grain, as well as building the family’s land acquisitions.
Eventually, Eldon and Elona met, married, and raised their six own children. All of them graduated from college and three of them studied education, Mrs. Cooley said.
The family continued to own and farm the land that is now Cooley Middle School.
Mrs. Cooley, now 92, told students and audience members during the dedication that it was a six-day a week operation for her husband and her sons.
“It was hard work, but had to be done. They too, left a legacy of productive farms and good land.”
She shared the story about the time she received a call from what was then Williams Air Force Base. It was in the 1960s when the base was a hub for pilot training. Unfortunately, two planes collided and landed in the Cooley family’s fields, leaving two pilots dead.
“They, too, left a legacy. They lost their lives in this field preparing to be members of the United States Air Force,” she said.
The Cooleys watched as the land around the farm transformed from agriculture to the homes and businesses that now form Cooley Station.
Mrs. Cooley continues living in Mesa, where she and Eldon built their first house 45 years ago.
Mr. Eldon W. Cooley lived in Gilbert and Mesa for 87 years. He was Mayor of Mesa 1972-1976 and served in several leadership roles with his church.
Mr. Cooley passed away in 2007.
Elona Cooley continues to spend her time with family, including 27 grandchildren, 67 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.