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Published: Sunday, 4/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Evelyn Coachman, 1924-2012: Staunch Democrat aided campaigns, fund-raising

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Evelyn Coachman, a former nursing home operator and longtime activist in the Democratic Party, died Saturday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Toledo. She was 87.

The cause of death was pneumonia, her nephew James Saunders said.

He recalled that when her health took a turn for the worse several weeks ago, she asked him to drive to Toledo from Cleveland to help get her affairs in order. She didn't want anyone fretting over her in her last days.

"Her last words to me were, 'Get that worried look off your face. I'm old and that's just the way it is.' "

Her niece Mary Catherine Gilmer said Mrs. Coachman was born in Marion, Ohio, but moved with her parents, Aquila and Izora Coffey, to Toledo when she was about 6.

She graduated from Scott High School and in the 1950s became a licensed beautician, working out of her home for about 10 years.

Her mother founded Coffey Nursing Home in the 1930s, and Mrs. Coachman worked there when it was first established on Dorr Street and after it moved to Franklin Avenue. Her niece and nephew said Coffey's may have been the only African-American-owned nursing home in the area at the time.

The nursing home, which cared for 32 patients, closed in 1968, Mrs. Gilmer said.

Mrs. Coachman later sold life insurance, working from her home, her niece said.

From about 1975 onward, she was active in the Democratic Party. One of her campaigns was for Carty Finkbeiner, a former Toledo mayor, when he ran for a city council seat in 1994.

"She was really positive, very enthusiastic person," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "It wasn't just politics, we also worked on neighborhood issues."

In the mid-1980s she founded the Nellie Hill Gales Democratic Club, named for a Lucas County deputy clerk, with the goal of inspiring blacks to become involved in their community and political activities.

"I don't want our people to be left behind," she said in a 1997 interview with The Blade.

She described volunteering at fund-raisers and voter-registration efforts and noted, "I've shaken hands with President Clinton, President Carter. I know all the judges downtown."

"She talked to us all about politics," Mr. Saunders said. "She was a strong Democrat. She encouraged us to get out and vote."

Mr. Saunders said his aunt took on a parental role after his parents died relatively young and provided strong guidance and advice.

She belonged to St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church.

"She was a woman of very strong faith until the day she died. Her mind was extremely sharp and she did a lot of her own computer work at age 87," Mr. Saunders said.

Mrs. Coachman was preceded in death by her husband, Fred.

Visitation is to be Monday starting at 9:30 a.m. at Dale-Riggs Funeral Home Chapel, followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. at St. Martin de Porres.

Tributes are suggested to St. Martin de Porres or the American Cancer Society.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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