Back to school special: Enerdyne’s nature and science oasis

By Sandra Serra Bradshaw

Sun contributor                                      

More than 40 years ago, Enerdyne, an extraordinary science-nature oriented shop, opened in the village of Suttons Bay. Its proprietors are Professor Dick Cookman and his wife, Pat Cookman. “Science and nature delights for the creative and curious humans of all ages,” is their motto. The Cookmans have lived by that credence in both providing products that make learning fun for all who enter this unique and enterprising place. It is a treasure trove cornucopia for all.  

“Each trip to Enerdyne provides a whole new exciting experience for our repeat clientele who return year after year and comment: ‘I remember when my parents brought me here when I was young and told me how much their parents loved to bring them to Enerdyne to play and find great science and nature stuff to bring home,’” said Dick Cookman.

The idea for the store was born on a trip they took to a wood stove conference held in St. Louis in 1987. Just as most tourists often do, they checked out the various shops in the vicinity and found most of them were nature-focused. It was a sign of the times from people being “plastic oriented” to realizing a more natural environmental place of mind. As such, their idea turned into a concrete one and the Cookmans, in an ever-accurate and ever-timely manner, and have kept up nature trends through the years.

“Enerdyne supports an understanding of the natural world and beyond by means of hands-on discovery,” Cookman said. “Let us help you discover your new favorite science/nature ‘toy’ or instrument so you can learn with your personal version of play.” Inside the shop you can watch wildlife or distant dark sky features through top of the line optical equipment, grab a just-out-of-reach Sodalite/Syenite rock or a Petoskey Stone with a handy Stone Scoop, or build and control a responsive robotic Hedgehog, and much more.

“One example of our commitment to change and control growth is that since 1980 we’ve grown our way through four different locations—all of them in downtown Suttons Bay. Yet there has never been more than one Enerdyne,” said Cookman.

Pat Cookman taught science to fifth and sixth grade students before their move north from Otsego, Mich. in 1970. When they opened their first store in 1980 it was named Enerdyne Solar & Wood. Back then they were focused on being an energy conservation supply store. It was a new concept at the time, but in keeping up with the times they offered wood stoves and the new solar energy implements and related items.

“When the solar hot water kit idea took off, we found out very quickly that most of our customers didn’t want to build it themselves, so we offered to do installations for them,” said Cookman. “We carried wood stoves, including (the well-loved) Norwegian Jøtul.” The couple’s store became the largest dealer of wood stoves in our region—and that in the often fickle retail world.

“Pat originally ran the store mostly on her own for the first 20 years,” added Cookman. Between 1970 and 2000 (when he “retired” to work full-time at Enerdyne), he was Professor of Astronomy, Geology, and Environmental Sciences at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), teaching from the J. H. Rogers Observatory in Traverse City. Starting from the very beginnings of opening their first store, they always kept teaching and learning in mind, but in an engaging way. “We want people to realize that learning is fun,” stated Cookman.

Enerdyne is based on the unifying concept that serious science and nature study is enjoyable. The store offers the very best in learning toys, covering all ages. “We define Playthinks© as toys, kits, books, specimens, tools, and instruments that help develop creative and curious minds and foster appreciation and understanding of things that exist on Earth and in the Universe,” Cookman explained. “Scientists are not the only people who spend their lives paying attention to—and deriving satisfaction from—the study of the natural and man-made world. They are just the ones who make it a career.”

Most enjoyable to the professor is when his former students stop in the Enerdyne. Just as while at his teaching lab at NMC, what he loved most then and continues to love now about his job is giving them verdant, unasked for openings to learn that science is fun. That is amazing and shows the character of this delightful ever-teaching store owner. He cares and delights in that, and it truly shows.

By the early 1990s, again in keeping up with the ever-changing times, the Cookmans evolved their business into a science and nature focused store. Then in the late 1990s the couple added an Optical instrument department. It was during that era of the store that they changed the name to Enerdyne. That name has been carefully nurtured and has endured. It is a uniquely made-up name, theirs alone, and it fits in an extraordinary way.

The introduction of optics into the store was an important step in the shop’s evolutionary journey; “Telescopes, being much lighter than wood stoves, ‘ran’ wood stoves right out of our store,” laughed Cookman. “Although Pat was at the store mostly alone those first 20 years, I came into the store to help out whenever—and wherever—I could,” he said.  But besides optics, they offered science-related toys and books and other items. With so many books related to the sciences, they have not forgotten local book offerings.  

From the huge spectrum of optical devices manufactured throughout the world, each of the 100s of instruments at Enerdyne are carefully selected with the goal of providing the best choice for their customers. The professor is most proud of the weather instruments they have to offer their customers. “Just as each vineyard, due to its location, and its slope of the land, each vineyard has its own micro-climate, well, we too have our own individual micro-climate in our own backyards, not just for the wineries,” he explained.  “What is in yours will be different from someone else just down the street.”

“We get our weather reports out of the National Weather Station in Gaylord, and that’s over 40 miles away from us here in Leelanau County,” Cookman continues. “So having one’s own weather station right at home makes sense. For boaters, who both rely on and need accurate weather reports, owning one onboard makes even more sense.

“And who knows,” he said, “Exposure to reliable weather instruments at home might spark a youngster’s curiosity and promote active investigation of weather and climate or support participation in STEM learning programs at school. A Do-It-Yourself weather station or climate kit from Enerdyne could be a kid’s ticket to a career as a world-renowned interplanetary meteorologist or climatologist—another opportunity for a future job with built-in adventure.”

The Cookmans, unabashedly and truthfully proclaim (as do their optic customers) that they showcase “the widest selection of binoculars, telescopes, spotting scopes, microscopes, and magnifiers in the Midwestern USA.” Not just the actual instruments—and the collection is staggering—but also now a host of related books, maps, and related items too. Designed for ages eight to 80 and beyond, the selection will satisfy astronomers, avid bird-watchers, boaters, or just the curious! 

“We stock globes and maps to help you find your way around the universe, planet Earth and its geologic formations, and this fabulous Michigan neighborhood,” said Cookmam.

Another of Professor Cookman’s fortes is on the store’s website. Since January 2014, Cookman has posted his own comprehensive Monthly Skies report. For August his topics include the meteor showers where he writes of them: “August meteor showers include the Perseids, the Kappa Cygnids, and the Aurigids. The Perseids are one of the best showers of the year and the other two are minor showers…”

As for books, many of them related to science and nature, they have not forgotten to offer locally authored books as well. Two recent additions are: The Complete Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area & Leelanau County Inside UP North 2021 Now In Full Color, by Heather Lee Shaw with contributions from Jodee Taylor, Bob Butz, Tom Carr, Duncan Moran and many more, reads the front cover.  Another great read is Leelanau By Kayak: Day Trips, Pics, Tips and Stories of a Beautiful Michigan Peninsula Expanded Second Edition by Jon R. Constant with Larry Burns.  

Two other books in their wide selection, in a more nature-oriented slant, is the ever popular guide, Michigan Wildflowers: In Color by the late Harry C Lund. First published in 1991, the book has been a staple on the Enerdyne shelves since 1994. This is a must have identification book for all flower lovers. Another amazing must-read is The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate Discoveries from a Sacred World, a New York Times Bestseller written by forester Peter Wohlleben.

Another thing that brings Professor Cookman joy is in inspecting and identifying fossils and minerals, including one of mine found out on S. Fox Island.  He found it so rare that he has asked me to take it to the geology department at Michigan State University after spending much time on his microscope carefully examining it. Another is those who come into the store and ask about various things in the night constellations. Enerdyne features many books on the subject.

Yet another thing quite unique to Professor Cookman; his monthly sky report on the store’s website. For instance the highlights for August 2021 include these:  Highlights:  Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, August Moon and: Focus Constellations: Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Ursa Major, Bootes, Corona Borealis, Ophiuchus, Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Pegasus, Andromeda. Not only that, but you can look back in his archives to January 2014. Quite interesting from young budding astronomers to any who love the night sky, and isn’t that most of us?! 

Rocks, minerals, and fossils abound for you to enjoy, some for purchase on Enerdyne’s shelves, cases, and spinners. Outside, on the front store window there is a huge green graphic greeting one to come inside. It vividly reads: “Petoskey Stones,” and yet so many more kinds are here. “They have been waiting for millions of years and are starting to think you may be late. Hurry up and relieve their concerns, come to Enerdyne to meet and greet new friends that wish to accompany you to your destinations,” reads the shop’s website.

With such a sizable store there has to be help and of that Professor Cookman is grateful. “This summer, especially due to COVID, most places have found it difficult to find help of any kind, let alone finding ones with enthusiasm and dedication.” Lori Flees, who has worked there the longest, started in 2013. “It’s an amazing science-nature store and I learn a new lesson every day,” she said. “Professor Cookman is always giving me a lesson. I feel as if I were in college!”

Enerdyne also employs three Suttons Bay High School students, all of whom will be juniors this fall. They are also each on the Norsemen Robotics Team. “Such a great fit to have young, eager-to-learn scientists as employees, especially this summer when it’s been so hard for people to find help,” said Cookman of the trio. 

“As a student this is a great learning environment to be working in,” said student employee Sicily Mattis. “By learning new stuff from Professor Cookman, I can use it for the rest of my life!”

Enerdyne takes COVID seriously and has had an ionization air system installed – the same such as John Hopkins Hospital and Mayo Clinic and many other establishments have installed (please see the Enerdyne website for more details on it and so much more). They ask everyone to wear a mask, and if you do not have one of your own, they have them on hand to offer. If you wish to order products from Enerdyne or simply want more information, please visit the store in Suttons Bay, call (231) 271-6033, or visit them online at