‘The show must go on’ - Over 400 people pay their respects to Heckmondwike businessman, Howard Cook, as son vows to continue Ponderosa ‘dream’
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Mr Cook, who opened Ponderosa Zoo, off Smithies Lane in the town, in 1991, passed away at the age of 79 on Saturday, September 30, following a short illness, with his youngest son, Adam, guiding him to his final resting place hoisted aloft on a JCB - a vehicle he became synonymous with due to his work in the construction industry - from Cleckheaton to Dewsbury Crematorium, via the famous business he established.
It was at the Lakeside Restaurant within the grounds of the Heckmondwike zoo where a “celebration of life” service took place.
Adam told the Reporter Series: “He had a proper send off. Everybody came out in force on a day that meant something to me and my family. Everybody turned up and united in the celebration of my Dad’s life. It didn’t feel like a funeral. It was a celebration of life.
“There were over 400 people in that room. The funeral director said he had never seen as many people at a funeral before. It was unbelievable. Then there was a standing, clapping ovation. It was very, very humbling.
“And it was an honour - especially after years of doing everything for everybody else, his dedication to the community and dedication to other people - to take him on his last journey, in something he had spent most of his life on.”
Mr Cook, who was born in Leeds, established Ponderosa and the Rural Therapeutic Centre to help bridge the gap between abled-bodied people and people with learning disabilities. The facility, which accommodates over 120 animals and species, spread over 11 acres, still looks after 45 people with learning disabilities.
And Adam has pledged to continue his father’s good work. He said:
“His last song was ‘The Show Must Go On’ and that’s what my Dad wanted. My Dad was very much like, ‘The baton falls to you now Adam and I would love for you to continue on the dream.’ And that’s what we’re going to do.
“I’m not going to let him down and I’m not going to let people and the community down; people like Kim (Leadbeater) who has done some fantastic stuff and our local councillors whose support has been immense. I’m not going to let them down.
“Ponderosa is a big thing in our community that is owned privately and we look after a lot of people with learning disabilities. That dream is going to continue on.”
Mr Cook’s family would like to thank everybody who attended the funeral, as well as Claire, Shawn and Chris from Butterfields Funeral Directors, the celebrant Christine Freeman and Salindras Florist.