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The light of life may fade in time, but the stories of a life can be immortal.
A bright light was extinguished December 20th, 2023 – but never the stories themselves. Let me tell you the story of Lois Coffey – herself a wonderful storyteller, and a woman with over 100 hundred years’ worth of living.
Lois Opal Prewitt Coffey was so many things to so many people: dutiful daughter, caring sister, loving wife, hard working mother, doting grandmother, pious Christian, gifted gardener, skillful cook, wise mentor, beloved teacher, faithful friend, gracious hostess, generous giver, devoted pet owner – and a very good shot with a rifle.
Ms. Lois was born November 11th, 1923. She lived a long, long life, and was blessed with everything she needed to be happy. These gifts she never hesitated to share with those less fortunate than herself.
This is not to say that she had an easy life. She was neither born to wealth nor raised in luxury. Her parents, Ephraim David and Irene Mercer Prewitt, raised her and her siblings – Fletcher, Earl (Pete), Lyda, Roscoe (Bean Bug), Regina, and Clyde (Cotton) in Bow, Kentucky. Although, by the standards of some, they had little, their family was rich in love, dignity, and the necessities of life.
The lessons Ms. Lois learned in the Great Depression would stay with her. She did not like to buy anything that she could make for herself, or throw away anything that she could fix. She never bought more of anything than she needed, or wasted anything that she had. If anybody was deprived, she and her husband, JD, would assist in any way they could.
Many of her favorite pastimes in later life – sewing, quilting, gardening, canning – had been the means of her family’s survival in her formative years. As a mentor later in life, Ms. Lois would impart these skills – along with the virtues of frugality, industry, and generosity – to many of the younger residents of Cumberland County. She was very active in the community throughout her life, serving as a 4H leader, organizing a gospel singing group, and spearheading many philanthropic endeavors.
If the Depression shaped Ms. Lois’s childhood, the Second World War defined her coming of age. She had not yet graduated from high school when she saw many of her classmates – including her brothers, Pete and Fletcher – enlist. Most signed as soon as they were eligible, or even before, including her future husband Joseph Daniel Coffey (JD), who falsified his age to join the Navy.
Ms. Lois never lost her finely honed wartime talent for letter writing to the frontlines, or the cooking skills that came from lavishly providing rations for the GI’s. She became a genius for recipe substitutions, and, although lots of people may say they can cook to feed an army, she was one of few who have proved it! Even so, the ever-humble Ms. Lois always denied that she was a good cook. In fact, when JD proposed, Ms. Lois refused, saying she simply couldn’t marry him because she couldn’t cook. He replied that he had been a cook on a Navy destroyer, and that if he could cook for a crew, he could cook for a wife. She accepted his proposal, and the cooking must have been alright, because they were married for more than sixty-four years. They lived on the Coffey homeplace outside of Burkesville, Kentucky, and had four children – Danny (Jane), David, Ann (Steve), and Daryl (Debra). She also enjoyed the company of her adopted children, Pam (Tom)Wells and Ricky (Pam) Prewitt.
Despite her many other accomplishments, Ms. Lois considered her greatest achievement to be her service as an educator. She received her teaching degrees from Lindsey Wilson College and Western Kentucky University, and was an active participant in many of the defining moments of twentieth-century education. She began her career in the mid 1940’s, presiding over grades 1 through 8 in a one-room schoolhouse much like the one she herself had attended in the 1920’s. She had to walk 20 miles daily to work, crossing the Cumberland River twice each day by ferry.
Ms. Lois believed in mutual dignity and respect for all people. She stated, “There was never a student that I didn’t love”. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, she helped oversee the racial desegregation of the county school system. This is an initiative that she strongly supported, and something she was proud of until the day she died.
When she retired after 40-plus years of teaching, she had outlived segregation, one room schools, and most of the free ferries, finishing her career as a classroom teacher at Cumberland County’s consolidated elementary school. In her many decades of teaching, she was a friend and mentor to hundreds of students, who remember her fondly today. Many have credited her with their later successes in life.
Sadly, Ms. Lois had to endure the loss of many loved ones over the course of her long life. She survived her parents; her brothers and sisters; her husband; her son, David; and many of her school children, cousins, and friends. Entire families and communities came and went while Ms. Lois lived on. One enduring source of stability in her life was Liberty United Methodist Church. Its congregation was a beacon of hope and a comfort in time of loss for the 88 years that she was a member.
Her God was a loving God. When, in the 1970s, she hosted a Muslim exchange student who rose every day to pray at 5 am, Ms. Lois always got up and prayed with him, in the knowledge that “God loves us all”.
Despite the many trials and tribulations in her life, Ms. Lois never ceased to be hopeful about the future. She took solace in her friends, her school children, her husband, her children, her nieces, her nephews, and her many grandchildren: Chris, Pam, Chuck, Lauren, Amanda, Sean, Grant, Adam, Dhanya, Jody, Mariah, Andi, Amanda, David, Maddie, and Greats.
When, in her old age, Ms. Lois needed looking after, she loved her caretakers, and always felt that they kept life interesting. In that spirit, her descendants would like to extend special thanks to Cumberland Valley Manor Nursing Home, Lifeline Home Health, Amedysis, Hospice, Dr. Flowers Jr. & Sr, Peggy Flowers & Staff, Cumberland County Hospital, Linda Davidson, Patty Huddleston, Geri Williams, Doris Cary, and Hazel Smith, for their faithful service on her behalf.
In fact, Ms. Lois’s family wish to make known that they deeply appreciate all of you – the entire Cumberland County Community – for the love, care, and respect you have shown Lois Coffey throughout her lifetime. They so appreciated Ms. Lois’s mention in the ‘Hometown Hero’ column of the Newspaper, the stellar attendance at her 100th birthday celebration, her invitation to serve as Grand Marshall in the Christmas parade, the designation of Lois Coffey Day as a civic holiday, and the official renaming of former Bear Creek Island as Lois Prewitt Coffey Island. Ms. Lois loved you, and so does her family.
Here's hoping we can all make our corner of the world a little brighter, just like she did. Although she traveled all around the world, and enjoyed it, her question upon returning was always, “Why would anyone leave Cumberland County?”
Her life will be celebrated at 1:00 pm on Saturday, December 30th, 2023, at Liberty United Methodist Church, in Bow, Kentucky. A dinner will follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to: We Care – Cumberland, P.O. Box 695, Burkesville, Kentucky 42717; or to Liberty Cemetery Fund, 2220 Celina Road, Burkesville, Kentucky 42717.
Norris-New Funeral Home in Burkesville, Kentucky is honored to be in charge of all the arrangements.