When Andy Cook and his wife Barbara moved to the small town of Westfield in 2005, he couldn’t imagine that he would eventually help lead it to become the city it is today as its first and only mayor. Nor could he imagine that, after serving 16 years as mayor, that the town of less than 20,000 would become the fastest-growing city in Indiana and the sixth-fastest growing city in the United States.
For the previous 23 years, the Cooks had lived in Carmel, a city more than three times the size of Westfield at the time. The Tradewinds Logistics transportation corporation Cook ran with his sons was in its eighth year. Jim Brainard was in his third term as mayor of Carmel, and Mitch Daniels had just become governor of Indiana. Cook credits both men for inspiring him to get involved in local government.
“I became interested and sensitive to where the town (of Westfield) was going,” Cook said. “I was told that if you want to get something done, you have to get involved. I started attending town council meetings.”
Within a year, Cook was elected to the town council, following in the footsteps of his father, who had served as a city councilor in Bloomington in the 1950s. Cook became president of the council, which had already voted to transition from a town to a city in 2008.
The same day Westfield became a city, Cook became mayor on Jan. 1, 2008.
“I had a whole lot to learn,” he said. “The town council had laid a great foundation. They had townshipwide planning, which is unusual for Indiana.”
Cook compares running the city to running 10 or 12 different companies, each with a completely different culture based on tradition and necessity — from the city planners to the police department. He learned quickly that, instead of treating them all the same, he had to motivate them to work together for the common good.
“One of the things you learn through the process is that municipal finance is completely different than our private sector,” Cook said. “It’s very complex. It’s constantly changing dealing with our state legislature and various agencies as they change leadership. There’s no textbook. We went through the once-in-a-lifetime experience of turning a town into a city. There’s no ‘how-to’ for that. It’s all a matter of the quality of people you surround yourself with.”
The growth had just started to pick up in Westfield when the Great Recession began in 2007. Cook said that difficult time allowed the city to push the pause button.
“Out of that pause came a comprehensive land plan, a thoroughfare plan and a five-year sustainability plan which the city updates each year — three chapters in the city’s ‘how to grow bible,’” Cook said. “We really have stuck to those plans. They have given us a solid rock to grow on. At the local level, to be successful, you’ve got to have some plans.”
Looking back, Cook said his biggest challenge in office was “selling the city on Grand Park.”
“For this little city, it was a big jump,” he said. “It made a lot of sense to me. But to some (people), it didn’t.”
At the time, Cook thought the sports development could bring in as many as 250,000 visitors a year. In 2022, 3.5 million visited Grand Park.
Still, none of the projects Cook helped bring to Westfield compare in his mind to the Westfield Youth Assistance Program.
Cook played an instrumental role in starting Indiana’s first-ever youth assistance program, along with retired Hamilton County Judge Steve Nation. They and other local leaders saw a need to bridge gaps for young people who were ending up in the court system. Since 2009, the Westfield Youth Assistance Program has advocated for young people ages 3 to 17 who are facing difficult life circumstances. Five more programs have emerged to make up the Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program, and similar organizations are being formed in other areas in Indiana and beyond.
“The fact that we could get so many entities working together for the benefit of our next generation is what has made it a success,” Cook said, “It’s work is growing. The demand for its services exceeds our resources, but people continue to keep giving. It goes to show that if you throw your heart behind something, it’s worth much more than money.”
The name and theme of the annual WYAP fundraiser, the Yellow Tie Gala, pays homage to Cook’s color blindness, which only allows him to see yellow.
As with any elected official, constituents have differing views about Cook’s 16 years in office. Nevertheless, few can argue with the impact WYAP has had on the lives of young people. Cook has received many honors the past several months for his work with the initiative. Dec. 26 to 31, as people travel U.S. 31 and Ind. 32 in the evenings, they will see yellow lights at Riverview Health Westfield Hospital in honor of Cook’s years of service.
- House Concurrent Resolution No. 45 — At the most recent Yellow Tie Gala in October, State Rep. Donna Schaibley read the Resolution, thanking Cook for his service to the community.
- Sagamore of the Wabash — Representatives from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s office awarded the mayor the Sagamore of the Wabash at a luncheon Dec. 8. The award represents the highest honor the Governor of Indiana can bestow to those who have rendered distinguished service to the state or to the governor. Among those who have received the Sagamore award are President George H. W. Bush, astronaut Gus Grissom, comedian David Letterman and musician Willie Nelson.
- WPD Meritorious Service Award — At a city luncheon Dec. 15, the Westfield Police Department presented Cook with the highest honor a civilian can receive from the WPD.