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Chuck Hinman - Mrs. Coffman: Teacher, Decorator, Traveler

With school coming up, this seems a likely story. It's not about Chuck himself but it shows his ability to bring people to life for his readers. It is not part of the It's Just Me Again series. - - Robert Stone
The next earlier Chuck Hinman column: Chuck Hinman: Saturday Night Live from Wymore, Nebraska

By Chuck Hinman


You will never guess what resident we have chosen to spotlight in this issue of Tallgrass Tales. It is Napanee Coffman, the interesting lady seen mobiling around Tallgrass in her Hoveround Electric Car. Or you may enjoy her "tickling the ivories" in the dining room. And she is the lady with the beautiful voice who helps with the sing-alongs. She is an outstanding and gifted musician who shares her talents for us to enjoy.

No wonder. She spent a lifetime as a highly respected music teacher in the Bartlesville Public School System -- Central and Madison Junior Highs to be exact. Altogether she taught 39 1/2 years. She also has English and Spanish certificates.

The Bartlesville schools have an envied reputation in the state and nation for their long-time musical expertise while other large schools push athletic prowess.

Year in and year out, Bartlesville schools turn out scores of All-State vocal musicians and Napanee Coffman is one of the pioneers who helped establish this enviable Bartlesville tradition.

Our son Paul, now 46 years old and a former All-State trumpeter, considers Napanee Coffman, his vocal music teacher in his junior high years at Central, his all-time favorite teacher.

Do you get the idea that Napanee's only interest is music? Guess again!

I first knew Napanee when my wife and I became members of Eastern Heights Baptist church here in Bartlesville. We attended many church dinners at Eastern Heights and the "miles" of banquet tables were always profusely decorated with a huge assortment of "just right" table decorations suggested by the season or occasion. Even a person with little interest in such decorations couldn't help but be impressed! I was!

Upon inquiring, we found out that this unbelievable collection belonged to someone by the unique name of Napanee Coffman. We soon made the acquaintance of Napanee, loving her immediately but never making the connection until later that she was the teacher our son had been raving about years before.

Going to banquets at Eastern Heights was motivated to a large extent to see the breath-taking table decorations. And you couldn't just admire those decorations in the area where you sat. Along with the other banquet goers, we soon caught on to the idea of going early to take-in the whole banquet hall which was a work of art!

If it was a meeting of the Golden Eagles (the oldsters at church), the tables came alive with large majestic eagles from Napanee's unique eagle collection. And I'm not talking about dime-store eagles!

If it was a Thanksgiving, all-church banquet, what else? Out came all the pilgrims, the Indians, the turkeys, the pumpkins, and the whole smear of Thanksgiving paraphernalia. Most of the figures and/or figurines are not miniatures - they tend to be good-sized with much detail!

And that is just Thanksgiving! Napanee has a large banquet size accumulation of decorative material for any holiday or any occasion. You can hardly imagine just the logistics of getting these decorations decided upon and moved from Napanee's home or rented storage places. It became a real labor of love not only for Napanee, the owner, but those women entrusted to help in this giant undertaking. And the massive, head-high stack of empty boxes out of sight in a corner of the banquet hall waiting for the trip home, attested to the work in providing such a rare banquet setting.

I apologize that my masculine gender prevents me from doing justice in describing this remarkable collection. I suspect it is one of a kind not only in Bartlesville but anywhere. My words fail me in describing the elegant atmosphere created by this massive collection. You have to see the banquet hall at Eastern Heights Baptist Church decorated for a special occasion. It is in a word -- AWESOME!

You are not alone if you wonder what motivates a person to accumulate such a collection. It is much, much more than a person could adequately display in the most pretentious of homes, of which there are many in Bartlesville. It is more suggestive of a museum display like in Harbor Village in Grove, Oklahoma, owned by the Jones Trucking Lines family.

I doubt if even Napanee has seen more that a smidgeon of her collection displayed at any one time.

I asked her if she inherited these things and she said "No." Neither has she been a collector all her life. She said that early on, she had nice things but they tended toward that found in homes where people entertain a lot -- she said she could always set a beautiful table. She has three sets of nice china, stemware, and silver. Most of the things for which she is known have been acquired in fairly recent years. I suspect from the very exclusive Miss Jackson's in Tulsa to untold garage and estate sales. And "Yes" Napanee smiles when she says she has heard of Dollar General Stores! But I would bet my last dollar that Napanee hasn't been in very many DGSs from the looks of her collection!

Napanee confided that she has several items that are true collector's items. She mentioned the name "Lalique." Stop drooling ladies! I didn't know what she was talking about but I suspect from her sly grin when she mouthed "Lalique" -- she was talking big bucks!

She concluded that several of her prized possessions are too large to use as table decorations and are free-standing. Her collection long ago overflowed her home and she acknowledges she hardly knows what she has because much of it is in rental storage. She mentioned that in all the times she has loaned her things for dressy banquets she has only lost one item -- a treasured turkey. Shame on somebody!

TT -- turkey thief!

Napanee was born in Kerrville, Texas and admits to being around mmm-sevent-mmm-something ... but who counts. Wink Wink. She says she has some French and Choctaw heritage through her father and a drop (she winks) of Cherokee Indian through her mother. When I asked her the significance of the name Napanee. She says it is a Sioux Indian name and means "Indian Princess." How appropriate!

Her father was a long-time prominent government employee. They moved around quite a lot as a result of his employment. She received much of her elementary education in Idabel, in southern Oklahoma. She graduated from high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma. During her school years she took piano lessons and developed an interest in singing from her mother. She pursued these interests when the family was living in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and she was attending Northeastern University.

She graduated with a music degree from Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and did post-graduate work at the University of Tulsa. She said she prefers to do accompaniment playing as opposed to solo playing.

She began her teaching career teaching music and English in several places in Oklahoma. It was while teaching in Porter, Oklahoma, (the Peach Capitol) that she met and married her husband, Emmett Coffman, a 1962 Engineering graduate of the University of Tulsa. He liked Napanee's chosen field of teaching because of the hours, so he re-tooled and became a teacher.

Both Napanee and Emmett were teachers for many years in the Central and Madison Junior High Schools here in Bartlesville until he was killed instantly in an automobile accident near Owasso, Oklahoma, in 1984. The accident was caused by the other driver.

Napanee nearly lost her life and endured a long recovery period, not only for her life, but the loss of the "only man I ever loved." Her eyes moisten as she says that almost reverently...

Fortunately they had many happy year together including some wonderful overseas trips. Their long-range plans when they retired for building their dream home on their 80-acre fruit farm near Porter, never developed.

Napanee's serious dream is to somehow go on the cruise planned for later this year with other Tallgrass residents. She knows there are some real problems for this to happen. She hates flying and needs to go by ground transportation to where she boards ship. She is seriously considering driving her huge white Cadillac with its Continental kit (spare tire mounted outside on the back of the car). It has a 260 horsepower motor with four barrel carburetor. It's in the garage at her home on Manor Drive waiting for Napanee to get in and say "Let's go -- Cad" as she has so many times in the past. Her mind is packed and ready to go, her body is slowing her down! Her Hoveround is her feet. Napanee jokingly says she has some "unfinished business in the jungles and she hopes to take care of that on this trip." WINK!

Bon voyage -- Napanee (Indian princess) -- you can do it. You made singers out of us at Tallgrass. We're betting you can make the monkeys in the jungles of Central America one of your best choirs yet! Don't forget to pack your baton!

Written for Tallgrass Tales by Chuck Hinman, October 7, 2004

This story was posted on 2012-07-22 04:14:44
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