Billionaire Bill Cook leaves historic legacy

Bill Cook

Bloomington - Funeral services have been set for Indiana billionaire Bill Cook who died Friday at the age of 80. Cook's body will lie in repose at the Cook Group headquarters in Bloomington on Saturday from 10am until 6pm.

Bill Cook became Indiana's richest man after starting Cook Medical in his spare bedroom back in 1963. It has grown into 42 companies and more than 10,000 people work for Cook Medical.

The company makes medical products like bio-engineered tissue grafts, mesh stents used to open clogged arteries and other medical devices.

Carl Cook will succeed his father as CEO of the company.

Cook made billions of dollars and he donated millions of dollars, primarily to historic preservation. One of his greatest achievements is the restoration of the century-old West Baden Hotel and French Lick Hotel in Orange County.

Cook not only wanted to preserve history. He wanted historic buildings to serve a purpose and not just sit empty.

Deep in Washington County, near the town of Salem, you can see an example of his work. It's on the side of a country road, six miles southwest of Salem. You can't miss it.

A centuries-old gristmill just as alive now as it was when it was built in 1808.

"It would have been gone, the building would have been in rubble so he actually saved it," said Jack Mahuron of Bill Cook's efforts to save Beck's Mill. Mahuron is member of Friends of Beck's Mill, a preservation group.

Beck's Mill is one of Cook's last projects which took a broken down historic building and restored it piece by piece. The restoration project cost "around $1,200,000," said Mahuron and "99 percent" came from Cook.

The project was completed in 2008, the 200th birthday of the mill. $100,000 went into rebuilding the water wheel alone. The corn mill was in good shape but the wheat mill had to be reconstructed.

Not only has everything here been restored to its original state, the mill still grinds wheat and corn and all of it is sold to keep it self -sufficient.

Gary Hobbs is one of three people who operate the mill for an estimated 10,000 visitors who stopped by in 2010.

Eyewitness News interviewed Cook on April 5th, ten days before his death. He spoke about historic sustainability.

"Any preservation we do, any restoration we do has to have a purpose. An empty building that has been restored just becomes an empty building that hasn't been used," he said, while standing in the new home of Indiana Landmarks at the Old Centrum, his last restoration project.

Beck's Mill is definitely being used.

"We've certainly appreciated and welcomed his financial assistance and I'll never forget Bill Cook," said Jack Mahuron.

The man who made sure history would also be a thing of the future.

Beck's Mill is open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October.