Michael Odell Cook grew up in Otsego, a small coal camp near Mullens.
He and his wife Linda have always made their home in Otsego.
He also serves as co-pastor of Otsego Bible Chapel.
Cook is known for his gentle demeanor, his selfless generosity and compassion in feeding dozens of homeless cats around Mullens, and his devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Though he has spent his life in a small mining town, he is also known around the globe for his Gospel Tract, “The Only Way To Heaven.”
You and Linda live in Otsego?
We have lived there since we got married in October 1985. We bought a mobile home and put it on the lot across the street from my parent’s house. Then around 12 years later, we built a house around the mobile home. We weren’t quite finished with the inside of the house when it was destroyed by the flood of 2001.
Prior to that, I had bought a dusk-to-dawn light to mount on the side of our garage in the back yard, so it would be easier to keep an eye on the river at night when the water was getting up high. The dusk-to-dawn light washed down the river, still inside the garage before I had a chance to install it.
FEMA tore our house down and hauled it off.
After waiting 10 weeks to get our flood insurance money, we bought a modular home and set it on part of the same foundation that our old house was built on. We moved into the new house on Jan. 12, 2002, after living in a 25-foot FEMA camper with five cats from August 2001 until that date.
Where did you grow up? Tell me about that, what was it like when you were growing up?
I grew up in Otsego. My parents moved there from New Richmond in 1957 when I was three years old, and we have lived there ever since. It was a wonderful community in which to grow up. It was a coal camp with lots of others kids to play with.
A large percentage of the families were related to one or more of the other families who lived there.
Everyone knew everyone and looked out for everyone. You didn’t have to worry about any kind of crime whatsoever.
It’s still pretty much that way today, although the population is much smaller. Many of the coal miners had to move to Ohio in the late ‘60s, and then the new road came through and they actually moved some of the houses to Mullens, behind the football field on Terry Street.
What is your best childhood memory?
I can’t even think of childhood without thinking about Libby Armantrout, my childhood sweetheart, and best friend until the day she died.
Her family was one of the families that had to leave Otsego and move to Ohio when the coal mines closed down. Our spouses both understood that there was a special bond between us, and they were good with it.
Libby and her husband Jerry came down from Ohio, and Linda and I went up and met them in Charleston for a Gaither Homecoming concert a few years before she died. That is one of my best memories that is related to my childhood.
How long have you been the pastor of Otsego Bible Chapel?
I was officially appointed as a pastor at Otsego Bible Chapel on February 1, 1987. In the New Testament, the terms pastor, elder, and bishop all refer to the same person. I co-pastor the church with Mike Endreson.
How did that come about? Did you always want to be a preacher?
I started out teaching the youth group at church as part of my required Christian service when I was a student at Appalachian Bible Institute (now College). Then I started teaching the high school and middle school Sunday School classes, then eventually the adult class on occasion, which led to where I am today.
I have always enjoyed teaching, but I enjoy preaching the Gospel even more, trying to win lost souls to Jesus by giving them a clear and scripturally accurate explanation of how we can have our sins permanently removed, not on the basis of anything that we have done, or could ever hope to do, but by simply trusting Jesus alone to get us to Heaven solely on the basis that He has already suffered the full punishment for our sins for us and that God is satisfied with the blood of Jesus and His death on the cross as the full payment for our sins.
You work in the Sheriff’s Department, tell me about that job.
I started out in the Tax Office, then after about seven months the sheriff moved me over to the Law Enforcement Office. I work in the records division, designing and maintaining computer databases for things such as warrants, civil suits, subpoenas, summons, divorce papers, payroll time sheets, time sheets for extra work details, invoices, etc.
What other jobs have you held?
Nineteen years combined time as Parts Manager at Ray Wells Cheverolet and Ray Wells PreOwned Autos in Mullens; maintenance and statistics clerk at Pinnacle Mine Office at Pineville; inside salesman at Priddy’s Lumber Company at Crab Orchard; truck driver at Mullens Grocery at Mullens, and construction worker for Southern Erectors at Tralee.
Which was your favorite? Why?
The job at the mine office was the best paying job I’ve ever had, and my boss was a wonderful Christian man named Randall Topping. He actually used to come into our four-man office sometimes at lunch time and share a short devotional with us from the Bible, and have prayer.
But overall, my favorite job so far is the one I have now. It’s the only job I’ve ever had that I didn’t dread. I doubt that you could find many law enforcement offices like this one, where the atmosphere is probably characterized by laughter more than anything else.
One of the worst drawbacks is that, being a law enforcement office, we obviously have lots of arrestees and inmates in the office at times, which often means lots of profanity and nasty language to have to listen to, sometimes almost all day long. That’s not very pleasant, especially for a preacher.
But, I really like working for the county. The courthouse, annex, and sheriff’s office employees are almost like family, and look out for each other. And, if someone has an extensive illness of some kind and runs out of sick days and needs more, other employees are usually glad to give them some of their sick days.
The really close relationships that have developed between me and some of my co-workers are what I like best about working here.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life? Why?
It’s hard to pick a single biggest influence. My parents were saved when I was very young, and they trained me to read my Bible EVERY day. They taught me the importance of faithfully attending all of the church services, not just when I wanted to, or when it was convenient, but all of the time. And they taught me right and wrong on the basis of what God Himself says is right and wrong in the Bible, and not on the basis of what feels right or wrong to our oftentimes flawed human emotions.
Then there’s one of my grandmothers who used to be a school teacher in the early 1900s, who rode to school on horseback, who taught me to multiply and divide three- and four-digit numbers by three- and four-digit numbers when most kids my age were probably just learning basic math, like 2+2=4.
And, there was a seventh grade English teacher who drilled into us proper English grammar usage. Without her influence, I probably wouldn’t have the writing skills, reading comprehension skills, or communication skills that I have today. Which also means that I probably wouldn’t understand Bible doctrine or be able to communicate Biblical truths to others as effectively as I am now able to do.
And, I’m sure that the Lord has used my wife Linda’s influence to make sure that I am just where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life today.
Another important influence in my life has been you, Mary Catherine Brooks, for giving me my own newspaper column, titled “The Only Way To Heaven,” as a platform to reach many thousands of people that I would have never been able to reach otherwise with the good news of the Gospel, for which I am forever grateful, as well as for your advice to keep the “fun” in writing, rather than letting it become a stressful burden.
And finally, I want to mention my “daughter,” Melanie. She isn’t really my daughter, but I wish she was, and I would gladly adopt her at a moment’s notice. Melanie has had a tremendous influence in my life. I don’t know how she does all that she does. She got her RN degree while working three and four jobs, taking care of children, a husband, and a house.
Her desire to understand the Bible better, so she could better teach her own children, resulted in me preparing lessons from the Bible for her to study on her own. Those lessons became many of the articles in the newspaper column that I mentioned earlier. Then I realized that I was close to halfway on my way to having written a book. So, because of Melanie’s influence in my life, I hope in the not-too-distant future to finish my book, titled “Salvation Made Simple For Sinners And Saints.”
Tell me about the cats you and Linda feed. Why do you do it? How did that happen? Does anyone ever help you?
I started feeding a black cat over in the used car lot, across the street from Ray Wells Chevrolet, over 15 years ago when I worked there. She eventually had four kittens and then got killed by a car. So I was left with four young kittens to feed.
Then a friend of mine, who worked at another business in town, kept telling me about some cats that she was feeding. So, I started going there and feeding them on weekends when she wasn’t there to feed them.
Over the years, I have found myself feeding cats in six different locations in Mullens at different times, as well as a few cats in Pineville.
One of my cousins told me not long ago that she had heard that one of our ancestors, many years ago, used to feed homeless cats in Mullens. I thought that was interesting that I could be feeding cats in one of the very same spots, or on one of the very same streets, that one of my ancestors fed them, possibly long before I was ever even born. But, I have no idea what her name was.
Why do I do it? I just can’t stand to see an animal going hungry. Some people can turn a blind eye and go on about their business. I don’t want to ever become that person. The very thought of becoming that person scares me, because it would mean that I had become a selfish, cold-hearted person who could no longer be moved or influenced by my conscience to show compassion to another living being.
No, no one ever helps me. I’m not sure how many cats I’m feeding right now. There were around 30 homeless cats altogether, in all of the different locations, plus my own 27 at home.
It’s a really hard, physically demanding, emotionally draining job, and I would never ask anyone to help me, or expect anyone to help me. It’s my burden, not theirs.
There’s really no reason I don’t suppose why anyone else should even want to get involved. The few who have offered help over the years are either those who do not really live close enough to help, or those who are already burdened with similar situations of their own, or those who are really not able to provide the level of help that I would need, especially in winter when it might literally be 18 degrees below zero, or when there might be 12 or 16 inches of snow on the ground.
Once in a while, I’ll run into someone in a store who will insist that I let them give me some money for cat food, like my friends Bobbie and Terry Houck, or someone might pull off of the road where I’m feeding cats and give me some money to buy cat food with, like my friend Tony Cordell did recently. And sometimes people just decide to buy some cat food and bring it to me.
One of my favorite people, Family Court Judge H. Suzanne McGraw, surprised me one time with two huge bags of dry food, and one of the biggest combination feeder bowl assemblies I’ve ever seen. Suzanne really has a soft heart for the animals. She calls me “the saint of Wyoming County.”
I do want to mention one person that I don’t know what I would have done without all these years. Pharmacist Regina Dillon has helped me so many times when people have dumped a litter of kittens on me, usually without the mother. I can’t even begin to tell you how many kittens she has taken home, and fed, and nurtured, and found homes for.
She has become one of the closest friends I have ever had, and I love her dearly. And she has helped not just me, but many other people as well. But she has reached her maximum number of cats right now, so please don’t anyone call her for help. As much as she would like to, she just can’t. She has reached her limit.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love to be able to retire by that time, the Lord willing. I wish I could retire now so I could devote all of my time to the ministry, especially my writing ministry.
What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Working a full-time job, being a pastor, and feeding probably 60-some cats in at least five locations, leaves me with no leisure time.
It is usually between 3 and 4 a.m. before I am able to get to bed and then have to get back up at 7:15 on workdays.
But, if I did have leisure time, I would like to start singing and songwriting again, getting more involved in photography, and maybe watch some Hallmark movies. I love Hallmark Christmas movies. They all have the same plot, but they are all clean movies, with no profanity, and you already know right from the start that it is going to have a happy ending.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would like to see Israel. It is the only place on earth of which God Himself has said, “the land is Mine.” (Leviticus 25:23)
What is the one thing in your life of which you are most proud?
I believe my greatest contribution to the world so far is a Gospel Tract that I wrote titled “The Only Way To Heaven.” There have been right at a million copies of it printed in English, Spanish, and Hebrew (give or take a few thousand).
A missionary from Brazil sent me a copy of it one time that he had translated into Portuguese and was using it to reach unsaved souls with the Gospel in that country.
And I have never had to charge anyone one penny for the tracts. The Lord has always provided me with the money to print and ship the tracts wherever they are needed free of charge.
If memory serves me correctly, I think I sent around 80,000 copies of it to a missionary in the Dominican Republic one time, again free of charge.
Otsego Bible Chapel has now taken on my tract ministry as an extension of the church’s ministry as well.
How do you want to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who provided as many unsaved people as possible with the clear and simple explanation that the only way to Heaven is to cease from your own works and simply trust God to allow you into Heaven, not because of anything that you have done, but solely on the basis that He is satisfied with His Son’s death on the cross as the full payment for your sins, and absolutely nothing else.