For as long as I can remember, Marlene Cook has been and remains a North Star for those of us fortunate enough to know her. She has led a life devoted to journalism, the arts, family, and service.
A brilliant writer and trailblazer for women in journalism, her talent, and her generosity to those around her have been notable. As a 50-year member of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA) and the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), those of us lucky enough to have learned from her and who have benefitted from her guidance, are impacted by her brilliance, humility, and her power, we have all felt it.
Marlene has been recognized throughout her career with more than 200 writing awards on both state and national platforms. In 2015, IWPA presented Marlene with its “Lifetime Member Award.”
She has been the IWPA Communicator of Achievement (the highest honor presented by the Association) in 1982, selected again in 1998, honored a third time in 2003 where she finished as 1st winner-up for the NFPW Communicator of Achievement, and now for 2023.
Since joining in 1973, Marlene has held every office on the IWPA Executive Board, except treasurer. She was elected president for two terms, from 1983-1987. Under her leadership, the Association experienced a revitalized surge of participation with bi-monthly meetings and programs of the highest quality. In 1985 she brought the National Federation of Press Women annual conference to Chicago where she served as the director of both the conference hosted by IWPA and the director of the 100th IWPA Anniversary Celebration held in conjunction with the festivities. She served as a historian for both IWPA and NFPW. Remarkably, she has attended 46 of the past 50 national conferences. This year, NFPW will recognize her for her 50 years of loyal membership.
As Marlene remembers it, she had been bullied by a high school teacher who told her she’d never amount to anything. That teacher told her she’d be barefoot and pregnant with a household full of kids.
Marlene did indeed end up with a house full of children after graduating high school and marrying her sweetheart, Hank. More determined than ever before, at the age of 30, she vowed that teacher wasn’t going to be right. Marlene went back to school attending Thornton Community College, Calumet College, and Northern Illinois University. She earned herself a job as a journalist in a local paper and she never looked back.
She’s written and worked for Star Newspapers, The Southtown Economist, Chicago Tribune, and several smaller community papers. She was the Community Relations Director for the Village of Dolton and the Director of the Dolton Chamber of Commerce. Marlene wrote for South Holland’s monthly village newsletter from 1993 until 2006.
She was editor and producer of First Focus, a monthly newsletter for First Church PCA from 2009 to 2016, and continues to write Marlene’s Musings, a column in IWPAs’s Pen Points newsletter, and is a writer and producer of Chicago’s Fenger High School’s Fenger News, Class of June 1952.
Marlene was named Citizen of the Year by the Dolton Chamber of Commerce, given Honorary membership to the Dolton Volunteer Fire Department, named to Who’s Who Among American Women, The Tom Dreesen award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, life membership in the National PTA and received Certificates of Merit from the National Kidney Foundation and the United States Jaycees.
By honoring Marlene today, we’ve placed her amongst that special “alliance” of communicators. It’s the group she is most respected, admired, and loved by.
With Marlene, our mentor and friend, there is always a seat at the table for you. You’d be wise to run toward her, grab that open chair and lean in.