Helen Jane Coffelt

Helen Jane Coffelt (Shepherd), 83, passed away Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020 at Pleasant View Lutheran Home in Ottawa, Illinois, where she resided since 2019. 

Jane was born on April 11, 1937 in West Lafayette, Indiana, the youngest of three sisters. Jane attended Purdue University, majoring in history. Following graduation in 1959 she moved to Chicago and began teaching at Libertyville High School.

At the dawn of the 1960s, Jane made a series of decisions that set the course of her life. Wishing to meet history head on, she and her girlfriends embarked on a tour of Europe, cutting a swath through the capitals and countryside’s of England, France and Italy. 

Returning to Chicago, Jane and her best friend flipped a coin — heads, New York — tails, California. California won and Jane soon landed in Manhattan Beach. As the Barbie doll phenomena swept the nation, Jane joined toy giant, Mattel, Inc., as a buyer. Keen to return to teaching, in 1964 Jane joined the faculty of Gardena High School, where her rapport with students led her to specialize in teaching teenagers with special needs and then in 1971, to become a guidance counselor, a post she held until her retirement in 1986.

In 1965 Jane reluctantly agreed to meet a recently divorced doctor and father of two. Jane’s ebullient spirit, captured the heart of Dr. Carl Frederick Coffelt Jr., and after an 11-year courtship, they married on Dec. 26, 1976. Jane was an outgoing, fun-loving person, who complemented her husband perfectly.

Throughout their nearly 50 years together, Jane and Carl made lasting friendships and civic contributions in every city they called home: first in Manhattan Beach, next in Idyllwild, then Coronado in the 1990s and lastly for the past 20 years in Cambria.

During their years in Coronado, Jane and Carl joined Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church. Jane served as a Deacon and participated in the Crown City Mariners, a church social association, and volunteered in the thrift cottage. Both Jane and Carl are deeply missed by their Coronado and Graham communities.

After Carl passed away in 2014, Jane continued to travel and in 2016 had a serendipitous meeting with Senator John McCain of Arizona at the Indiana War Memorial Museum in Indianapolis. A mutual friend of theirs and renowned admiral had just died. Jane introduced herself to McCain to offer her condolences. The two bonded for the short meeting they had, but Jane never forgot it.

Birthdays, weddings, graduations, hard times and good times, Jane was a constant presence in the lives of her sisters and their children and the countless generations which followed, who stand united in their love for “Aunt Jane” (AJ).

Jane was predeceased by her husband Carl; her parents; and her sisters Virginia Glamkowski (Jean) and Lavonna (Joan) Leslie. She is survived by her family through marriage: children Ian Coffelt and Anne Coffelt; grandson Alexander Carl Ougrenov; her in-laws, Richard and Lynda Coffelt; niece Rhonda Suder (Coffelt); and many cousins and nieces, nephews and their offspring.

A celebration of Jane’s life is planned. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in honor of Jane either to Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, 975 C Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118 or to First Presbyterian Church of Ottawa, 114 East Jefferson Street, Ottawa, IL 61350. 

It is fitting during these times, that this tribute to Jane end with McCain’s words:

“Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.”

Excerpt from Senator McCain’s “Final Letter to America,” published upon his death in 2018.

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