The sudden death of Cooper Tonneson, a 19-year-old Ponoka youth, has sent ripples of shock throughout the community.
As family and friends try to grapple with his untimely death, members of the community have shown an outpour of support to the family because of his positive influence.
Speaking on behalf of the family is Murray Schur, whose connection to Cooper is closer than most people realize. Schur’s son, Brandon, who died in a car accident about 17 months ago, was a close friend with Cooper
“Cooper had a quote that may be appropriate. ‘It’s better to have a short life that’s full of stuff you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way,’” said Schur, capturing the essence of what Cooper meant to him.
Schur said it was Cooper’s parents who felt he would be the best person to speak on their behalf. Not only was he close with Cooper, but he also has a close understanding of what it is to lose a child.
The impact Cooper had on the community is something that his parents may only be starting to realize. His mother and stepfather, Sheryl and Blair Vold, and father Clint Tonneson, have had to deal with something no parent wants to deal with, explained Schur, that is the death of a child. He suggests they have become part of an exclusive club that no one wants to be part of.
“It questions your process in believing in God. Why would God do that to me?” Schur asked.
He has met with family, friends and community members who remember Cooper and found that the resounding response is that Cooper was the kind of person who would treat everyone the same.
Schur suggests that Cooper’s family will need time to allow for healing.
“It’s not a time to want to have to be strong. It’s a time to cry because every tear that you cry is worth it. And it’s the time to reflect and look at the meaning of life,” said Schur.
“With his warm smile, his caring and saying, ‘I love you.’ Or a sweet hug to his friends and his family, or to anybody, to draw the best out of people in life,” said Schur.
Cooper’s upbeat personality, and the effect he had on many people, is something his parents can be proud of, but Schur says the death of a child is a devastating experience. “There is no other loss that is deemed as significant as to lose a child.”
He feels the best thing he can do is be there if family needs his support. Schur says he wants to give the parents hope that there is good reason to move forward in life and remember Cooper.
“The recipe of what went into making him that person is really the recipe of being a parent… to making him that wonderful man that he was,” said Schur.
Cooper created lasting memories within the community; Schur says businesses and individuals have reached out to the family to share their condolences. The outpouring of support was so large that the Calnash Ag Event Centre hosted his funeral — Schur called it Cooper’s “celebration of life,” — where approximately 800 people attended.
There was no other space that could handle the number of attendees, explained Schur, who suggests it was Cooper’s caring attitude that caused the desire for people to attend.
“It’s hard to recognize that in people nowadays,” he added.
Seeing the strong support gives Schur hope for the families and Cooper’s parents have been able to see the influence he had on members of the community.
A trust fund, dedicated to Cooper’s memory, will be set up by the family. Called the Cooper Clint Tonneson Memorial Fund, anybody who wishes to donate money to the fund can do so at the Servus Credit Union. Money from the fund will go to help with the research and cure of lupus, an autoimmune disease which lets healthy tissues in the body be targeted by the immune system.
It was no secret that Cooper was diagnosed with lupus, but Schur said it was something Cooper did not want defining him. He says Cooper never wanted people to look at him as any other person other than Cooper.
Friends try to deal with the loss
Schur met with a group of Cooper’s friends to get an idea of his personality and he says it was an emotional experience. While many celebrate the person he was, Schur wanted them to know that sometimes life is not fair.
However, he says that they should look at Cooper’s accomplishments and he suggests they take some time to understand the preciousness of life. “It gives them a better sense and clearer direction on treating one another well.”
“But also have perspective on how they live their life,” he added.
The closeness of Cooper and Schur’s son, Brandon — who was 20 when he died — cannot be forgotten. Cooper was a pallbearer at Brandon’s funeral and the two boys played sports and had many experiences together.
“Cooper was a huge part of our family. He was a huge part of my son’s life and that’s what gives me the perspective because I lost my son,” explained Schur.
He feels some comfort in the belief that Cooper and Brandon’s souls are together. “They are going to watch over friends and family together.”
His hope is that will also bring some comfort to Cooper’s friends and family.
Cooper played most of his minor hockey career in Ponoka and Schur says he had enjoyed many sporting activities such as golf and lacrosse. He also played with the Ponoka Stampeders for some time.
“From a sports perspective, he was a huge Calgary Flames fan and he promoted a lot of sports competition,” said Schur. “His catch phrase was always ‘I love you.’ He was a huge hugger.”
He says Cooper lived a full life and he had a zest for fun that was a benefit to the community and his friends, Schur concluded. Cooper’s 20th birthday is Dec. 13.
Cooper had four siblings; Sarah, Nansen, Labrie and Gjenna.