Don Kooker, a country boy from Bucks County, Pa., never built a better mousetrap and probably wouldn't have if he could have. Don never liked the idea of a lot of people beating a pathway to his door. " 'I didn't want all the headaches of big business," he once said when an enterprise of his threatened to grow too big. But Kooker just couldn't help thinking of ways to do things better. One day when he was walking through the Pennsylvania countryside, breathing the clean spring air and swinging the broomstick he always carried as a cane, it occurred to him that he might make a real walking stick out of a piece of walnut he had at home. He could shape it and polish it and maybe give it a silver tip, he thought, and then he could swing it with real bravado as he strolled along.
So that's what Kooker did. And then a friend asked him to make another just like it, and Don did that. And before long, there he was in a new business—Bucks County Walking Sticks.
When he started in 1964, Kooker was putting the sticks out in lots of 10. By the end of 1965 the lots were bigger and he had delivered over 6,000 to prestige stores all over the U.S., stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Hiring five men to help, Kooker set up shop in earnest in his two-car garage at Point Pleasant, Pa. By now the list of celebrities who stroll with Bucks County Walking Sticks reads like a political roll call: President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, ex-Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania, Senator Edward Kennedy, former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman.
His and hers sets have gone to Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Carson, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Paar and other television familiars. Kooker's most treasured endorsement was "commanded to be written" last year by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the tweediest stroller of all.
Kooker's sticks are all walnut, hand-polished to a rich brown luster and topped with a sterling disk bearing the Kooker coat of arms. The longest sticks come in 46-inch (He-Man Staff), 43-inch (Stallion Stick) and 40-inch (Sire's Scepter) lengths. Shorter sticks (Cock-of-the-Walk, The Wanderlust and Woodland Nymph) measure 37 inches, 34 inches and 31 inches respectively. Sticks cost $40 without initials, and $45 with.
Those who have them are happy, but Don Kooker isn't. "The business," he sighs, "has gotten too big. If I find the right buyer I'd as soon sell out."