Winner of Baby Derby has seen city change a lot in his 50 years here

There have been quite a few changes in Temple since lifelong resident Steve Cook won the 1951 Baby Derby by being the first baby born that year.

The major retail sector is no longer downtown at places like Sue Ellen clothing store on Main Street or Henson's Shoes on Central Avenue, but at shopping centers on South 31st Street and Loop 363.

Scott and White Memorial Hospital was on Avenue G in 1951, instead of its present location on 31st Street.

W.R. Poage was in his seventh of 20 terms as a congressman, 26 years before a federal building was named in his honor.

In 1950, Texas had a population of 7,677,832, and was mostly rural. Today, it is 20,851,820, the second most populous state.

On New Year's Eve in 1950, the Arcadia Theater in downtown Temple had a midnight showing of the 1950 movie "Harvey," one of Jimmy Stewart's five Oscar-nominated performances.

But in the week that followed, Steve Cook was the biggest star in Temple.

As described in the Temple Daily Telegram the first week of 1951:

"Stephen Miller Cook, seven-pound, five-ounce son of Police Sgt. and Mrs. Talmadge Cook of 5 North Sixth street won the 1951 New Year's Baby Derby without competition when he crossed the finish line just seven minutes behind the New Year early Monday morning at Scott and White Hospital.

"As prizes for being Temple's first 1951 baby, young Stephen Miller will receive from Temple merchants such necessities and luxuries as diapers, a stroller, a silver cup, a month's supply of milk, a month's diaper service, and new shoes.

"To the mother, for her part in the annual race, will go such prizes as a bed jacket, a supply of piece goods, and a pair of shoes. The father, for his part, will receive a new pocket knife and shirt and tie.

"Sgt. Cook was proud of his new son's achievement last night. He said, 'We thought there was a good chance of winning when we heard the bells and whistles going off at midnight just as my wife was going into the delivery room.'

"He said that Dr. T.F. Bunkley, who also helped in the race, was confident of winning.

"Sgt. and Mrs. Cook have two other children, Talmadge Allen, Jr., 7, and Nancy Sue, 4."

"It was a really big deal," Cook said Friday, adding that the prizes, worth almost $200, were a big help to his parents, living on a policeman's salary with three children.

"In 1951, that was quite a princely sum," he said. "I'm sure we got quite a discount at the hospital, too."

Anthony's, Dyrk's Studio, Nathan's, Stewart's, Temple Lumber and Supply, Rosser's, C.I. Mitchell and Sons, Gresham's, Bland's Jewelry, Farley's Grocery, Hospital Dairy, Zenith Laundry and Home Furniture Co. were among the Temple businesses that donated to the derby.

Cook recounted how his mother had gone for a walk that night, slipped on the ice and gone into labor.

Bunkley arrived from a New Year's party at the hospital in a tuxedo for the delivery.

Afterwards, Memorial Funeral Home gave the family a free ride home from the hospital as one of the prizes.

Cook graduated from Temple High School, went to Temple Junior College before finishing at Southwest Texas State University and moved back to Temple, marrying Brenda Cater, also a Temple native, 27 years ago.

He worked for Texas Instruments and Collier Electric, both of which have come and gone in Temple, and witnessed the downtown heart of the city give way to the growth of Interstate 35, Loop 363 and 31st Street.

"Through the years that was kind of sad," Cook said, "but as a young person as it evolved, I was just so excited to go to the new stores."

Cook remembered the construction of the Town and Country Mall, now the Outdoor America Mall, as the first shopping mall in Temple, and the blasting done during excavation for the present Scott and White location.

"I've seen a lot of growth," Cook said, "housing growth, business growth, and the traffic. There are a lot of cars running around now."

Of the things that have remained the same in Temple, Cook cited the Temple schools, where his daughter, Lindsay, 23, and son, Collin, 17, attended.

"Temple has always concentrated on having a good school system," Cook said.

Cook said he believes true Temple natives are becoming rarer as time goes by. If true, his family is an exception.

His father, Sgt. Cook, lived in Temple until his death in 1986. His mother, Allene Hardt, still lives here, as does his sister. His daughter and her fiancé also have plans to live in the area.

A former Lions Club president, Cook said being involved with the community teaches how good people are in Temple.

"When you get involved in the community, you meet lots of caring people," he said. "All in all, it's a really nice place."