Services for one of western Nebraska’s leading citizens, Virginia Coffee of Harrison, will be this weekend in that community. A wake service will be at 6 p.m. Friday at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church and the funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the United Methodist Church.
She died Wednesday, July 31 at age 92
Virginia Claire Kennedy was born Dec. 8, 1920 in Alliance to James and Adelaide Kennedy. She was the valedictorian of the St. Agnes Academy class of 1938 and enrolled at Chadron State College that fall. She majored in commercial subjects and English and had minors in home economics and vocal music.
While in college, she was a class officer, a student council member, was tapped by Cardinal Key National Honor Society and gave three vocal recitals. She graduated from Chadron State College in 1942, married to Bill Coffee of Harrison, a member of a prominent ranch family, that June and spent the rest of her life in Sioux County.
The Coffee family was already deeply involved with Chadron State and that affiliation was strengthened after Virginia became a part of it. She was a member of the Chadron State Foundation’s Board of Directors for 12 years and received the College’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999.
Bill’s grandfather, Charles F. Coffee, was a pioneer rancher and banker who spent three weeks in Lincoln during the 1909 legislative session seeking the support of the bill which ultimately led to the decision to place a college in one of the northern counties in western Nebraska.
The Lincoln Daily News claimed that without Coffee’s presence the measure “would have failed to pass.”
Coffee also was chairman of a committee to raise funds to purchase land for the college and was among the community leaders who welcomed the State Board of Education when it visited Chadron on Jan. 4, 1910 to inspect the proposed site and hear the city’s plans. Chadron was chosen as the site for the new college four days later during a meeting in Lincoln.
Coffee also headed a corporation that was formed in 1931 to secure a loan to help construct Edna Work Residence Hall.
Much more recently, Bill and Virginia Coffee made major contributions to several projects at Chadron State College in addition to establishing several scholarships that assisted numerous area students who attend the college.
In 1996, they gave $25,000 toward the renovation of the Don Beebe Stadium at Elliott Field and the Coffees led the way in founding the Colonel C.F. Coffee Cattlemen’s Gallery that opened in 2007 in the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at CSC. The gallery is dedicated to preserving the history of the region’s ranching industry. The Charles and Barbara Marcy Family and the First National Bank of Chadron also were instrumental in establishing the gallery.
Last September, during groundbreaking for the Rangeland Complex currently being constructed at Chadron State, it was announced that the indoor arena would be named the “Coffee Agricultural Pavilion” to honor the Coffee family whose $500,000 gift had been anonymous since 2010.
Virginia Coffee and several of her family members were present at the groundbreaking.
“Virginia was a wonderful person who provided outstanding support for this college and the entire region,” said Connie Rasmussen, executive director of the Chadron State Foundation. “She was a particularly strong proponent of education and agriculture. Many have benefited and will continue to benefit from her and her family’s philanthropy.”
Among her many community service activities were chairing the committee that published “Sioux County: Memoirs of Its Pioneers” in 1967, serving on committees that erected four official historical markers, and being a director and vice president of Friends of Agate Fossil Beds.
She also was named an Honorary Nebraska Centennial Governor for her part in that observance in 1967, was appointed by Gov. James Exon to the Fort Robinson Centennial Commission and was a member of the board of directors of the Nebraska Historical Society and Foundation.
In addition, she was on the boards of the Harrison Elementary School, Harrison Village, Harrison Community Club and the Sioux County Historical Society. She was the first woman to be mayor of Harrison, serving from 1978 through 1980.
She was preceded in death by her parents, husband in 2005, 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); 10 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family suggests memorials be sent to the Sioux County Historical Society at P.O. Box 164, Harrison, NE 69346, 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.
Chamberlain Chapel is in charge of arrangements. Burial will be in the Harrison Cemetery.
—Con Marshall, CSC Information Services