Cook Education Center a valuable asset, Navarro College celebrates 70th Anniversary

Corsicana Daily Sun
September 24, 2016


Shortly after assuming the presidency of Navarro College, Dr. Gerald Burson proposed the construction of an arts, science and technology center. This facility would serve as an educational magnet by providing year-round programs for the College, the community and the surrounding school districts. The Navarro College Foundation began the challenging task of raising funds for the new building, which would feature a 60-foot domed planetarium with seating for over 200, the largest in Texas. Completed in 1997, the facility was named for Leland and Sue Cook and their son and daughter-in-law Byron and Kay Cook, all of whom were financial contributors to the project.

The early focus was the Cook Center Planetarium and the world of aeronautics and space exploration. In addition to featuring exhibits provided by NASA, the Planetarium presented educational and entertaining programs on planets, astronomy and space travel. The emphasis of the Cook Center broadened when local philanthropists Chuck and Peggy Pearce donated their extensive collection of Civil War documents to Navarro College, including letters from all major figures involved in the War on both the Union and Confederacy sides. In addition, the Pearce’s donated over 100 paintings and sculptures created by noted contemporary artists of the American West. The Pearce family continued to add Civil War documents and art works to their donated collections ising campaign to construct Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pearce financed the construction of a major addition to the Cook Education Center in order to properly exhibit these two important collections. The Pearce Museum opened in 2003 and the collections have grown to more than 16,000 Civil War letters, diaries and other documents and over 250 works of art, displayed in professionally-designed exhibits and interpreted by a staff of dedicated professional and volunteer museum educators.

Yet another expansion was added in 2014 to double the public program space of the Cook Education Center and most importantly, to house and interpret Navarro College’s other nationally significant collection, the Robert Reading prehistoric arrowhead and artifacts collection. Consisting of over 44,000 Native American tools, Clovis points and other artifacts of the prehistoric period, the Reading Collection had been displayed in the Arrowhead Room of the Gooch Center for many years. To properly make it more accessible to the public, the Reading Collection was relocated to the Pearce Museum and a new gallery space was built to house “Hunter-Gatherers of the Blackland Prairie,” an interactive set of displays which tell the story of the Native Americans who occupied and traveled through central Texas for thousands of years before the coming of European settlements. Long-time Navarro College supporters Oliver Albritton, Tom White and Forrest Green, members of the Navarro College Foundation Board of Directors, led the effort to make this expansion possible.

The Cook Education Center has indeed become a valuable asset to Navarro College as well as to Corsicana and surrounding communities. Every spring yellow school buses fill the parking lot, bringing school children to participate in exciting educational programs at the Planetarium and the Pearce Museum, including the Hunter-Gatherers of the Blackland Prairie exhibit. Navarro College professors regularly bring their students to the Cook Education Center to use its resources through class projects, student art shows, astronomy and film classes, concerts and student programs. The added space has evolved into a community center, hosting weddings, high school proms, corporate meetings, family reunions, birthday parties, concerts and a variety of public special events. It also serves as a polling place for elections.

The Cook Education Center has indeed become what its founders had hoped for, an educational magnet providing a variety of educational opportunities for Navarro College, the greater Corsicana community, and area school school districts.