Pam’s People Profile: Steve Hartman takes CBS viewers on journeys across America with his “On the Road” series of stories. Here, Pam Clifton takes readers across the Parkland by sharing stories of local residents.
Dr. Jon Cozean’s life has been as colorful as a patchwork quilt.
Although most know him as the small-statured, quiet, methodical and professional funeral home director and owner, there’s more to his story – plenty more.
Cozean is fascinating. His tales are compelling. He’s full of local history, little-known facts, and plenty of interesting anecdotes of people and places. When he recalls his own biographical tales, his warm smile and kind eyes quickly transport his audience to a point where they become entwined in the details. He is engaging, always at ease, and makes his listeners feel like they’ve been friends for years.
He had his life all planned out, not long after he was a tiny graduate of the first St. Paul Lutheran kindergarten class of 1943. He loved to read and write. He was born to be a journalist, so he was going to pursue this passion. And he did everything at that time he could to avoid the family business.
Cozean’s parents knew he loved writing, so they got him a little printing press which used changeable rubber type. That summer because of a polio scare, most large public places were closed, including movie theaters, swimming pools, skating rinks, and other ventures like that. Being bored, the fourth grader then decided that summer that he would put out a daily newspaper, which he called the Noodle Soup Scoop.
Later, he upgraded to a mimeograph machine and turned his paper into a weekly. He called this The Farmington Sun and published it for four and a half years. He loved journalism and desperately wanted to be a newspaper man.
When Cozean entered Farmington High School, he discontinued his own newspaper and soon got a job working for Jeff Stewart at the Farmington Press. During his senior year, he switched over to work for the Farmington News. They used different types of printing equipment. He wanted to learn how to use them all.
It was during this time that Cozean began to develop his passion for history. He hurried to his job every day after school when he was with the Farmington Press where he worked in the basement. He poured hot lead in to make the photos. It took about a half hour before the lead reached the proper temperature for the molds that were used to print the illustrations. The first day he spent the entire time waiting. Finally, he went to the owner, Stewart, and asked if there was anything else he could do. He was told he could explore back issues of when the paper was first printed, around 1927. So Cozean made it his mission to devour each issue. And so he did, issue by issue, until he got through about 1937. He learned a lot by reading those newspapers. He read about the county courthouse that was built, streets that were put in, the last good days of the 1920s when the county was booming. He read about the Great Depression, commentary on the New Deal, and more.
“Learning all about our local history was one of the happiest experiences of my life,” Cozean said. “I couldn’t wait to get down there to read the next editions of the Farmington Press.”
This was Cozean’s first time he really got “into” history.
During his senior year, he worked for the town’s other newspaper, the Farmington News.
After high school graduation in 1956, he attended the University of Missouri-Columbia’s journalism school. While at Mizzou, he became heavily involved in student politics. In fact, he was one of two sophomores elected campus-wide to their student council. He was named editor of Mizzou’s college newspaper The Maneater during his senior year. That same year — under his leadership — the newspaper won the Kansas City Star’s award for the best college newspaper in the state.
Cozean had the opportunity to earn a Rotary scholarship to travel to Ecuador for a year if he improved his Spanish language skills. And so he did, and off he went to South America for a year of graduate studies.
After returning from Ecuador, Cozean learned he was up for being drafted into the military, so he joined the Marine Corps Reserves. That, he said, was a learning experience. He ended up with the title of sergeant before his service ended.
Cozean’s next adventure began almost immediately after his military service. He had the opportunity to obtain a fellowship at George Washington University. Once in Washington, D.C., he got a job working with a research organization in the Latin division. Although he says the pay wasn’t great, Cozean was able to take up to six hours of free coursework at a time while he had this position. These free graduate courses made this research job much more appealing.
This dove-tailed perfectly with the work Cozean was doing. As the Vietnam War was winding down, the government cut out this program. At this point, Cozean was half-way through his graduate degree. A good friend suggested he find another job so he could finish his doctorate.
So Cozean stayed in school a bit longer. He explored the city and its many museums. Every major division of government has a museum somewhere. Cozean was able to experience and explore many, including the aerospace museum and his favorite, the Naval museum in Alexandria, Va.
While in Wasington, D.C., Cozean was also fortunate to be picked as the copy boy for the Washington bureau of the New York Times. Normally this position was filled by a Harvard or MIT grad student, but Cozean had an interesting background by publishing his own newspaper. He was called in for an interview and was hired on the spot by the head of the bureau.
With this position came all kinds of experiences. Cozean was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr., the Watergate crisis, and the resignation of Richard Nixon. He returned to Missouri just as Ronald Reagan took office.
“It was a big disappointment [leaving the city] because I thought it would be fun watching Ronald Reagan as president,” said Cozean. “He was a very fascinating president.”
He had felt like he was settled in Washington, D.C. until he received devastating news in 1983. His father had died.
There wasn’t anyone else to take over the family business, so Cozean knew what he had to do. He returned to Farmington to help his family.
It was an adjustment at first. But the longer Cozean worked in the business, the more he realized he enjoyed the work. He liked working with people. He saw all kinds of areas in the business where he could make improvements. He began attending funeral directing seminars so he could modernize the business. All the records were updated using computers. He also took on leadership roles in the Missouri Funeral Directors Association.
That’s the point when Cozean revived his love of history. In the process of modernizing his business’ records, he learned about the history of the funeral home and more. Then he started receiving phone calls from Mineral Area College President Dixie Kohn. Cozean had a brand-new PhD, and he wasn’t utilizing this degree in his business. But Kohn only had three staff members at MAC with this degree, so he began to pursue Cozean. But Cozean was busy with his business and didn’t have the time to take on teaching.
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Then Cozean received a call from Jim Bullis, who told him that they were “desperate.” One of their main government teachers had had a heart attack and was going to be out for at least a month.
“We have a class starting in one hour,” Bullis said. “Can you take it over?”
After quick contemplation, Cozean knew he couldn’t let the college down. So he accepted the position and arrived in his new class within the hour.
“Once I started, I really bonded with the students,” said Cozean. “The faculty was filled with wonderful people, and it opened up a whole new page in my life.”
Then the two positions became a balancing act, but it was well worth it. “The beautiful thing for me was that I got to teach various courses in Latin America and government,” said Cozean. “It was fairly easy for me because I had lived in Washington, D.C., and followed all that closely. I was like a duck to water. And fortunately, I had a good staff [at his business] who could take over for me when I was at the college.”
Over the course of the years of attending national funeral director conventions, Cozean has discovered that many of these people have also taught college courses in their spare time. For him, teaching provided just enough of a change of pace.
“Variety is the spice of life,” he said, “and teaching was just what I needed to keep me busy and interested in other things that I enjoyed.”
As an instructor of history and government courses for about 15 years, Cozean believed in the completion of traditional college research papers. “A college graduate needs to know how to locate information and write it,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t required by the department, I required all of my students to write a research paper.”
Being involved at MAC allowed Cozean to develop yet another interest: baseball spring training. Although Cozean never had any children of his own, MAC’s baseball team became his family.
“When one of the players would have a good day,” he said, “I got as much satisfaction from that as if I had been their parent.”
He also got to know many of the parents.
“MAC’s baseball team was a very special part of my life,” Cozean said. “I look back on that time with wonderful memories. And if I had stayed in Washington, D.C., I would have missed all that.”
Cozean’s interest in history carried over first from the press room and then from the classroom and into the community. He credits his mother for getting him interested in local history. She was an active member of Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. The group’s members were always interested in any history regarding Farmington and St. Francois County. They also sponsored many programs.
When Cozean was in grade school, his mother invited him to attend DAR meetings with her. He recalls sitting in the back of the room, listening intently to the meetings’ topics. Cozean’s mother knew he was interested in local history.
As an adult, Cozean became involved with the St. Francois County Historical Society. In fact, his mother was a founding member. Cozean himself became a member in 1983 and was president in 2017. He’s still a part of this group today. Initially he began working with Gertrude Zimmer, president of the society and also the long-time Ironton librarian. She had completed her master’s thesis at Mizzou on the topic of small towns in St. Francois County and the surrounding area of places that had been founded, bloomed and faded away.
During this time, Cozean had always had an interest in photography. So he and Zimmer worked together to present programs. He created slideshows of photographs to coincide with Zimmer’s talks. Some of their presentations included the known springhouses of the county; old metal bridges that were built by the state before World War I; the county’s one-room schoolhouses; early factories in Farmington; some aspects of St. Joe Lead Company’s operations; classic homes built in Bonne Terre (largely funded by St. Joe Lead Company’s executives); history of the county newspapers (at the time, two in Bonne Terre, two in Flat River, two in Farmington, and briefly one in Bismarck); and more.
Although Zimmer passed away, Cozean still does these programs about once a year and fondly remembers the partner he worked with for so many years.
To be involved so deeply in history, Cozean is a prolific reader. He enjoys modern political history and is especially fascinated by different aspects of World War II. In fact, he spent a week at Pearl Harbor many years ago. He received a letter from Mizzou stating the battleship USS Missouri was being moved to Pearl Harbor where it would stand along with the sunken battleship USS Oklahoma. The significance was that for Americans, the war started at Pearl Harbor off the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and ended at Tokyo Harbor.
Cozean traveled to Pearl Harbor where he spent a week on the USS Missouri scraping paint and swabbing the huge deck. He became good friends with the project’s director. On the day he was to leave Hawaii, Cozean was told by the director that he was a “rare one” because most people who came only stayed a couple days, not the whole week like Cozean had done.
So he wanted to show his appreciation for Cozean’s week-long efforts by showing him something special. He took Cozean to Hickam Air Field and to the main tower that was the key target of Japanese warplanes.
According to Cozean, he was able to see the thousands of pockmarks where the tower was hit by Japanese warplanes. He took him to the hangars that were hit. There is an area where the sea planes would come into the hangar, and this was all pockmarked, or chipped from the shells that hit the concrete. Cozean saw many reminders of the attack.
This tour was special to Cozean because most tourists never get a chance to see what he saw that afternoon at the airfield, looking at all the relics left after the attack. He was also able to stay at a hotel that is mainly reserved for the military personnel who travel through Hawaii.
Since he is an early riser, Cozean was able to get to know many Marines and Navy personnel who had relocated to Honolulu as they visited the hotel’s local coffee shop each morning. He enjoyed talking to them about their WWII memories and hearing their first-hand accounts of the war.
“I was so lucky that this opportunity just fell into my lap,” said Cozean.
So while it might seem that Cozean did not have fulfilled his dream of being a journalist, he did, indeed. For it was through the pages of his own small newspaper so many years ago to the fascinating stories that he tells today of his many wonderful life experiences that he, indeed, has achieved his goal.