After more than 28 years in the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis, Jeanne Cooney, its director of community relations, is calling it quits.
"She is a real visionary," said former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, who left the office in August to become permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "She is very creative, very caring, she makes people feel good."
Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, now a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, said he's proud he promoted her to the community relations post. Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger recalls Cooney organizing office staff to buy Christmas gifts for Red Lake Reservation children. He dressed up as Santa Claus and handed the gifts out.
Cooney, 57, worked with a range of groups including students and school districts, immigrants and the media. "I loved my job and I actually think we did some good," she said.
That included preparing a booklet on how schools and police can develop a safer school environment in the wake of the 2005 Red Lake shootings, and another booklet that taught young Somali leaders about the criminal justice system.
She's worked for Republican and Democratic U.S. Attorneys. "I'm a staunch liberal but it has never personally caused any issue in my work," she said. "Everyone wants our communities to be safe and criminals to be held accountable."
Cooney is now moving to a second career, writing humorous mystery novels, based in northwestern Minnesota. Her first endeavor is "Hot Dish Heaven: A Murder Mystery with Recipes"; as the title indicates, it intersperses a mystery and recipes. Released in July, it has reached No. 5 on Amazon's rural humor book list, she said, and she is already at work on a second book. Under federal rules, she must get the book synopses cleared by the Department of Justice. Evidently, her recipe for green bean casserole is not a threat to national security.
Cooney has gone to about two dozen fairs and festivals this year, autographing books and reading excerpts. In Wahpeton, N.D., she signed books at a restaurant-gift shop while folks ate hot dish and Jell-O. "We discussed murder and shared a few Ole and Lena jokes," she said.
Cooney has won a number of ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair for her baking recipes. Her chocolate chip "monster cookies" are reportedly to die for. They contain oatmeal and M & M's, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno couldn't get enough of them whenever she came to Minneapolis. Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked for the recipe, according to Jones. "She doesn't give it out a lot," said Jones. "I couldn't even get it." It has yet to be published in a book.
Cooney is self-effacing about it all. "I am a terrible cook," she said. "My kids always said that they could tell when I was making supper because the smoke detector would go off."
So how is it that a terrible cook can write a book that includes lots of recipes? she was asked.
"Anyone can make hot dish," said Cooney.