The opportunity to establish the Cooper Clinic Nutrition Program and serve as its Director for 25 years has been one of the greatest joys and blessings of my life. To share a kindred spirit and esprit de corps with dedicated, talented colleagues committed to the mission of helping others prevent or reverse heart disease with diet, exercise and lifestyle was a dream come true. Inspired by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper’s first book, Aerobics, I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Cooper and his clinic even before completing graduate school and my clinical residency. I sent Dr. Cooper my ideas. We met. His exciting response still rings in my ear: “Welcome aboard.”

In the Beginning
The Nutrition Program began in 1979 as the “new” Cooper Clinic building opened its doors. Our concept was novel at that time: 1) prevention-focused, 2) individualized nutrition guidance and 3) nutrition feedback for each Cooper Clinic patient as an integral part of a comprehensive physical exam. Each patient met with a registered dietitian nutritionist and received a nutritional assessment, personalized guidance and individualized eating plan. We developed our own in-house computer software to analyze each patient’s diet. Our services soon extended to Cooper Fitness Center members and the Dallas community. People were hungry for safe, science-based, effective, tailored nutrition guidance where lifelong success could be achieved through knowledge, habits, accountability and coaching.

My first assignment at the Clinic was to develop the first Cooper Clinic Nutrition Guidelines. These preceded the first official United States Dietary Guidelines (USDG), released later that year. Decades before American Heart Association and USDG provided specific quantitative recommendations to the public for sugar, sodium, fiber, caffeine, alcohol and water intake, we translated the research into patient guidance. Today, guidance from these two national committees matches ours.

First in Dallas to offer group weight loss classes that included nutrition education, individualized eating and fitness plans and behavioral modification, our weight management programs soon became a major consumer-driven service. Within the next three to five years, five registered dietitian nutritionists expanded our staff, including Kim Glascow Goldstrohm, Pam Neff, Cindy Kleckner, Patty Kirk and Cindy Wachtler. Kathy Miller and Lara Hassan joined our team a few years later. Today, Patty Kirk holds the record for serving Cooper Clinic patients longer than any other dietitian nutritionist, having worked at the Clinic for 40 years. Her nutrition expertise, innovative patient programs, exceptional skills in counseling, teaching, cooking, recipe development and creating patient teaching tools are only exceeded by her compassionate style of working with her patients and colleagues, earning her accolades, accomplishment and appreciation by patients and staff alike.

In the early ’80s and ’90s, in response to patient requests, our team authored four books: The Balancing Act Nutrition and Weight Guide (by Georgia Kostas and Kim Goldstrohm), The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution (Georgia Kostas), What’s Cooking at the Cooper Clinic (staff) and The Guilt-free Comfort Food Cookbook (Georgia Kostas).The health and weight guidebook became required reading for recruits of the U.S. Coast Guard and part of wellness programs of the U.S. Army and Navy and numerous hospital systems nationwide. Many happy cookbook readers reported losing weight and lowering cholesterol simply by cooking recipes from our books!

July 1984 – Cooper Clinic nutritionists (l-r top row) Virginia Laiming, Jean Storlie and Pam Neff; and (bottom row) Georgia Kostas, Sarah Van Amburgh and Kim Glasgow.

With Dr. Cooper’s prolific book writing throughout his career, staff dietitians soon became busy providing his nutrition sections. Patty Kirk, Kathy Miller, Cindy Kleckner, Cynthanne Duryea, Cindy Wachtler and I contributed to: The Aerobics Program for Total Well-Being, Controlling Cholesterol, Overcoming Hypertension, Preventing Osteoporosis, Kid Fitness, The Antioxidant Revolution and Advanced Nutritional Therapies.

Throughout the years, many full-time and part-time dietitians expanded the Clinic’s Nutrition Services, each contributing specific talents and expertise, including sports nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal/digestion issues, eating disorders, cancer and children’s nutrition. We added Recipe Analysis services for restaurants and The Dallas Morning News’ weekly Food section (led by Cynthanne Duryea and Patty Kirk), consulted with restaurants, provided public speaking, campus lectures, media communications, TV appearances, blog writing, The Cooper Institute research contributions and cooking classes (led by Kathy Duran-Thal and Cindy Kleckner). Of particular joy to me was the opportunity to spread the news of preventive nutrition to dietitians and health professionals at their annual state and national meetings in 47 states.

Nutrition Expansion across Cooper Aerobics Center
As the Clinic expanded its nutrition outreach, so did each division of Cooper Aerobics Center. 

The Cooper Institute
In the early ’80s, The Cooper Institute added Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Leni Reid, Sarah Van Amburgh, Jean Storlie, Virginia Laiming and Ruth Ann Carpenter. They taught nutrition prevention and health promotion programs worldwide, while also contributing to The Cooper Institute’s nutrition research.

They trained teachers and students at public schools as part of the FitnessGram® program, first in Dallas and Richardson before its nationwide launch; employees and trainers at corporate wellness programs, fitness and wellness directors in the military and health professionals at The Institute’s regular workshops.

Cooper Wellness Program
In 1986, Kathy Duran-Thal was named the first Nutrition Director of our Cooper Wellness Program, the new live-in residential program geared to helping people make lifestyle changes through experiential living and learning. Her cooking classes’ fresh approach to teaching nutrition became a hit and soon her first cookbook, Cookery Classics, was published. Kathy provided supermarket tours and learning experiences at restaurants, giving her clientele a real taste of healthier living. Kathy also contributed to Nutri-Points, a book by Dr. Roy Vartabedian, nutritionist and Cooper Wellness Program director. Thirty-five years later, Kathy remains passionate about educating Clinic patients on their nutritional needs and helping them live healthier.

Cooper Clinic
In 2004, after serving as Nutrition Director for 25 years, it was time for me to pass the nutrition torch to our well-qualified long-term staffers Patty Kirk and Kathy Miller. As Co-Directors, they led the Nutrition Department to a new level, along with their expert staff. As the years have progressed, it has been a true joy to watch the programs advance with the moving times and meet the extraordinary dietitians behind the progress.

For many years, new Clinic teammates received a write-up created by Mrs. Lawrence L. Nichols Sr., prior owner of the Cooper property, describing the history of the Cooper Aerobics Center grounds and original home, which housed Cooper Clinic initially. Today, four decades later, I, too, am enjoying the opportunity to blog about campus history, and amazingly, as Mrs. Lawrence Nichols Jr.!  I married her son! For all these treasured memories and blessings, I want to thank Dr. Cooper, dietitians, all staff and patients and friends on campus for making Cooper Clinic and Cooper Aerobics Center a phenomenal and “happy place,” filled with extraordinary people, providing extraordinary programs and continuing to move the Cooper mission forward, into the next 50 years.

Article provided by Georgia Kostas, first Nutrition Director at Cooper Clinic.