Jesse Rush Milam
Co-Owner of the Cooper Grocery Company Founding Board Member of the Cooper Foundation Regional Chairman of the Red Cross in 1940s
Jesse Milam was born September 20, 1869 in Weatherford. The family soon moved to Glen Rose and his father opened a merchandise store where Jesse worked for many years until 1907 when he sold his share of the family business and moved to Waco. At the time, Jesse had a wife and two young kids. He came to Waco because he wanted them to grow up in a bigger city where his sons would have more opportunities in life. Jesse used the money he brought with him to buy into a longtime staple of Waco commerce, the Cooper Grocery Company. Madison Cooper started the company by selling produce out of a wagon on the Square. Jesse struck a contract with Cooper and took over the financial aspects of the Cooper Company.
In the 1930s, the Milams lived in a two-story brick home at the corner of 14th and Austin and it became a favorite stop for the most desperate people suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. It seems Jesse made a habit of feeding the needy and they flocked to his backdoor daily to eat what he and his family could spare.
Meanwhile, business at the Cooper Company was booming and Milam led its expansion from the city’s best grocery company to a versatile dry goods store. The employees would later say that Jesse Milam was the heartbeat of the company and primarily responsible for its success. It came to be that the Milams, Coopers, and Lacys were in many ways the leading families of Waco. This dynamic was immortalized when Madison Cooper Jr. wrote the book “Sironia,” a wildly popular novel based mostly on the lifestyles of these families.
All four of Milam’s sons worked under him at the Cooper Company and one of them fought in World War II while the younger three served in World War II where one tragically died in action. The Company’s business reached as far as New Mexico and the Valley by the 1940s. It had gone from relying on teams of mules and the railway to thirty six truck and its main competitor was another dry goods company which was run by Drayton Mclane Sr. who built quite an impressive business of his own. In 1943, the son of the Cooper Company’s founder, Madison Cooper, established the Cooper Foundation and Jesse Milam served on its board for the remainder of his life.
In 1948, Bro. Milam helped lead the fundraising and planning for Waco’s new YMCA building.
When Jesse Milam died in 1951, the Cooper Company soon became the focus of a battle for ownership between his son and Madison Cooper Jr. Eventually, Jesse Jr. got ownership of the company and renamed it the Jesse Milam Company.