North Camp’s ‘Cookie’ dies at new home

A file photo of Cookie.

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — “Cookie” was the homeless man who made you feel at home.

That’s what made him the face of North Camp, a homeless camp in the city of Walker.

>>Photos: Cookie’s home at North Camp

But a little more than a year after the camp was shut down, David “Cookie” Rodgers, 54, has died at his new home.

“That was his happy place,” his sister, Chris Srda, said of Cookie’s place at North Camp.

A file photo of Cookie's stove.
(A file photo of Cookie’s stove.)

He was proud of the place he had built  — the siding, the pot belly stove, the half-moon window, the mailbox that didn’t get mail, the loft, and the tracks for his rats.

“He could stand back and say, ‘I did this, look at this, this is mine,'” his brother, Mike Rodgers, said.

>>Photos: Cookie’s shanty during winter

Cookie helped Target 8 tell the story of North Camp, a neighborhood of 10 shanties — none fancier than his — built on railroad property near Ann Street NW, off the grid.

“Everybody else wanted to forget them, but he was the one that would speak up for them,” his sister said.

Between hitchhiking the country, Cookie worked all kinds of jobs — a roofer, a golf course maintenance man. He played guitar in a band at Festival of the Arts.

“It was by choice, basically. He didn’t want anybody dictating the rules to him,” his sister said.

“He didn’t want to have to report to anybody,” his brother said.

But Cookie drank himself to homelessness before landing at North Camp about four years ago.

A file photo of Cookie.
(A file photo of Cookie.)

Then, in May 2014, the railroad that had been so gracious for so long could no longer let them stay. They needed the land for a construction project, which has since been finished.

“He was immensely devastated when they brought the bulldozer in and took his house down,” his sister said. “He called me and he was crying, and I never heard my brother cry.”

>>Photos: A North Camp winter

With help from social agencies, Cookie and the others settled into places with running water and electricity. He was living on  government assistance and the $200 a month he got from his mother’s inheritance.

A file photo of Cookie playing his guitar.
(A file photo of Cookie playing his guitar.)

He brought some of North Camp with him to the West Side of Grand Rapids — his bike, guitar, the generator, the ax he used for firewood, one of his rats.

And he liked it, his sister said.

“I see his spirit, is what I see,” said his sister as she stood in the middle of his home.

His brother and sister said Cookie’s drinking got worse every October, near the anniversary of his father’s death. He missed his funeral because his family couldn’t find him.

They said a lifetime of drinking led to the liver failure that killed him on Sunday.  They didn’t learn about it until Tuesday.

“He knew his liver was failing, yet we have two bottles right here that are empty,” she said, pointing to the table in his front room. “He knew what was going on.”

The family is gathering from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Memorial Alternatives Burial and Cremation Service, 2432 Fuller Ave. NE.

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