Virginia Claire (Kennedy) Coffee



(December 8, 1920 - July 31, 2013)


The Lusk Herald
August 7, 2013



Virginia Kennedy Coffee passed away on July 31, 2013 in Crawford, Neb. Services will be held at the United Methodist Church, Harrison on Saturday, Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. with Father Bernard Berger and Reverend George Kilmer officiating. A wake service will be at 6 p.m., Friday Aug. 9 at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Harrison. Visitation will be from 7 p.m. at the family home in Harrison.

Virginia Claire Kennedy was born Dec. 8, 1920 in Alliance, Neb., daughter of James (a dentist born in Ontario, Canada) and Adelaide (Forde), (a former physical education teacher from Chicago). She was the youngest of six children. Her brothers later practiced medicine and dentistry in Alliance, and the Kennedy family name was well known and respected throughout western Nebraska.

Virginia was valedictorian of the St. Agnes Academy graduating class of 1938. She enrolled at Chadron State College that fall, where she majored in commercial subjects and English, and minored in home economics and vocal music. Her father passed away during her sophomore year in college, but she continued her education with the support of her family. She gave three vocal recitals, was a class officer and student council member, and was tapped for Cardinal Key National Honorary Sorority. She was pretty and popular and didn’t lack for dates, but she caught Bill Coffee’s eye. He set out to win her heart, and did.

Of course the war changed things. She was asked to sing “This Is My Father’s Land” at a college convocation a few hours after the United States declared its entry into World War II. In the spring of 1942, prior to receiving her degree, she was hired as teacher and principal for one semester at Whitman High School after her predecessor there had received a Civil Service appointment in Washington, D.C. She felt ill prepared for the job, but surely rose to that occasion as she did every other one in her life. That June, she and Bill were married and they moved to the Warbonnet ranch north of Harrison.

Those early years on the ranch came as a shock to her. Growing up in Alliance, she had been a “city girl.” She knew how to make a fancy dessert but not a meal, and despaired when called upon to feed the hay crew. One such day she overheard Bill telling the crew before dinner “It’s not going to be very good but the first man who complains is fired.” There was no hint yet of the wonderful cook and hostess she would become.

Three of the couple’s five children were born while they were living at Warbonnet. In the summer of 1947, two year old son Buff died following a tragic accident. The family moved into the Coffee house in Harrison after the Blizzard of ‘49. Bill’s parents had recently constructed a new home on main street.

Virginia’s trained soprano voice was much appreciated throughout the area. She was asked to sing at virtually every wedding, funeral, prom and special program that took place in Harrison over a span of many years. Between taking their four daughters to piano lessons and leading 4-H clubs, etc., Virginia did the ranch bookkeeping and worked on a wide variety of school and civic committees. She and Bill formed a dynamic duo. He managed the ranches and she did everything else. It was Virginia who took the girls on memorable vacations to the Black Hills, Denver, Santa Fe and Salt Lake City.

Virginia developed a keen interest in genealogy and history. She chaired the committee that published “Sioux County: Memoirs of Its Pioneers” in 1967, and became the go-to source for information on local history. She was active on committees that erected four official historical markers. She was a director and vice president of Friends of Agate Fossil Beds for many years, and was named an Honorary Nebraska Centennial Governor for her part in that observance.

She also was appointed by former Gov. James Exon to the Fort Robinson Centennial Commission, which among other projects, founded the Western Art Show that takes place in Fort Robinson each July; and headed the Sioux County Bicentennial Celebration Committee when Harrison and Sioux County were the first in Nebraska to meet all the state guidelines. Two of the major projects of the latter committee were establishing an historical museum and developing Coffee Park in Sowbelly Canyon north of Harrison from land donated by Guy and Ila Coffee, cousins of Bill’s. Locally, she served on the boards of the Harrison elementary school, Harrison village, Harrison Community Club and Sioux County Historical Society. She was mayor of Harrison 1978-1980, the first woman to hold that post.

In addition, she served on the board of the Nebraska Historical Society and Foundation as well as the Chadron State Foundation, and was given the Chadron State College 1994 Distinguished Service Award. She and her family funded multiple scholarships that have provided assistance to many local young people attending Chadron State.

Virginia and Bill had a large circle of friends and enjoyed hosting gatherings. They celebrated the centennial of Hat Creek ranch in 1973 with a grand party that had guests flying in from around the country. Their 60th wedding anniversary in 2002 presented another opportunity for a party, this time at Warbonnet ranch. Bill passed away in 2005 and Virginia stepped up to oversee ranch operations and look after the family’s interests with the assistance of her daughters and several close friends and advisors.

She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, son Buff, all of her siblings (Donald Kennedy, Mary Chisholm, Jean Davis, James Kennedy, and Ellen McDougall), and son-in-law Larry Wackman. She is survived by daughters Claire “Twink” Coffee Brown (Tom), Sara Coffee Radil (Gary), Ann Coffee Wackman, and Sue Coffee Rusie (Greg), She is also survived by ten grandchildren (Tess and Tony Brown; Amy, Buff, Ann and Jennifer Radil; and Chris, Travis, Tyler and Claire Wackman); seven great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be sent to the Sioux County Historical Society (P.O. Box 164, Harrison, NE 69346) or the Virginia Kennedy Coffee scholarship fund (c/o Chadron State Foundation, 1000 Main Street, Chadron, NE 69337), or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Chamberlain Mortuary of Crawford.

Online condolences can be made at www.chamberlainchapel.com








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