Bill and Eleanor Coalson

Bill and Eleanor Coalson

Only once in 41 years of living on Greenridge Road did Eleanor Coalson’s husband suggest living elsewhere. He even went so far as to select a lot in Deercreek.

“Our home is perfect for us, and I love our street and neighborhood, so I told him he would have to move without me!” said Eleanor.

Coalson_03“I didn’t want to live with the same kind of people in the same income bracket. I like living in a place where there are a variety of ideas,” said the 76-year-old Eleanor. “All I need is a bed and a pretty, cozy room. We didn’t need a mansion.”

Needless to say, the Coalsons remained in Miramar, where they have spent 55 happy years of marriage.

Florence Eleanor Akin Coalson (who uses her middle name) was born to Paul Roy and Julie Akin, who lived on Talbot Avenue in Avondale and later on Almours Drive in San Jose. Eleanor attended Ruth Upson Elementary, John Gorrie Junior High and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1957.

Eleanor met her husband, William “Bill” Lane Coalson, on a blind date when she was 16 years old.

Coalson_04Bill was born to William Columbus Coalson (W.C. or “Dub”) and his wife, Hallie, at St. Vincent’s Hospital. In 1934, his father had moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Jacksonville to work as the soda fountain manager for Lane Drug Store at Main and Forsyth Street. Later he opened Dodson’s Restaurant at the corner of Bay and Main Street as well as a second location on Forsyth Street.

Bill grew up in Riverside on Herschel Street near West Riverside Elementary until he was seven years old when his family moved to Kelnepa Drive in Miramar. As a student at Hendricks Avenue Elementary, he served on the “boy patrol” with his longtime friends Ronald Gardner, now a retired cardiac surgeon residing in Hickory, North Carolina, and James Harrell, who at that time lived on River Road.

Bill also attended Landon Junior-Senior High School and was a member of the football, golf and swim teams. He recalled that in 1956, during his senior year, the football team held its awards’ banquet at Dodson’s, a restaurant owned by his father, which was located on Forsyth Street near the Old Seminole Hotel.

Coalson_05Bill was getting ready to graduate from Landon when he was introduced to Eleanor Akin by Gardner’s girlfriend, Camille Mallard. “My mother and father were going on a trip to Savannah and my sister was away at college. I was only 16 so I decided to spend the night at Camille’s house,” Eleanor said. “She had a boyfriend at Landon who asked Bill to go out on a blind date with me.”

The couple enjoyed dinner at the elegant Le Chateau Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, attended a graduation dance and later saw an Audie Murphy movie at the St. Johns Theater, which was across the street from Dodson’s.

Sometime after the date, Bill was hospitalized at Baptist with hepatitis, Eleanor said. “He got sick. When I didn’t hear from him, I called the hospital from a pay phone at Lee High School to find out how he was doing. He was so impressed that a girl my age would call somebody she hardly knew. That sparked his interest,” she said.

Bill and Gardner were classmates in college in Georgia. Bill played football and graduated in 1958 with an associate’s degree in pre-dentistry. He later took classes at Jacksonville University, transferred to the University of Florida where he graduated with a degree in real estate in 1961.

Coalson_02Before Bill graduated, Eleanor and he were married in 1960 at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Riverside. Their first apartment was on Cedar Street in San Marco.

In college Bill had been a member of the U.S. Air Force ROTC. He completed flight officer training school in Amarillo, Texas from 1961-1962. He later was stationed in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and at the remote Northeast Cape Air Force Station on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Before Bill returned home after his military service in 1963, Eleanor had rented a house on Inwood Terrace. They also lived in San Souci on Hirsch Avenue and at Woodlake Apartments on San Jose Boulevard before buying their 1936-vintage bungalow on Greenridge Road in 1975.

Bill’s career as a successful eminent domain attorney specializing in appraisal and real estate came after a variety of work experience. He first worked at First Guaranty Bank (now Center State) under bank president Julian Fant, Sr., then moved to a surveyor’s assistant job with Max Garcia Surveying. He was also employed as a rigger at the shipyards and as a real estate appraiser with his father-in-law, Paul R. Akin of Akin & Coalson Appraisers & Realtors, before heading off to law school in the late 1960s.

Bill graduated from Florida State University School of Law in 1969. After working in the Public Defender’s Office, Fidelity REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) mortgage investments on Riverside Avenue; W. Barnett Winston REIT on Gilmore Street and the Jacksonville General Counsel Office, he partnered with C. Ray Greene, Jr. and Thomas H. Greene in Greene, Greene & Coalson Law Practice in Gulf Life Tower. Ten years later, Coalson opened a solo law practice in San Jose. He retired in 2008 celebrating with a combined retirement/birthday party at San Jose Country Club.

Coalson_01Meanwhile, Eleanor enjoyed a career in education after attending Wesleyan College, Florida State University and graduating from Jacksonville University in 1970. She taught English at Jacksonville University for three years when it was located in a two-story red brick Riverside house across from The Row Restaurant.

“In 1938, when Jacksonville University was still in Riverside and struggled to stay open, my father helped rally the community and raised money to keep it going, something I was very proud of,” she said. “There are no records of this, but I know it’s true because he told me so many times and it happened before I was born.”

Eleanor taught second grade at Greenfield Elementary, but left for a brief period to teach at Grace Chapel before it was named San Jose Episcopal Elementary. Later she returned to Greenfield where she spent 26 years, retiring in 1998. “I wrote articles about teaching for the local newspapers because my heart is with the teaching profession and public education. I am deeply concerned about our public schools,” she said.

In addition to teaching, Eleanor has published three children’s books Hannah & Emma Go To Chicago Via CSX, which was inspired by a trip she took to Chicago with her granddaughters; Simon Says Run, a true story about a horse that was briefly lost during Hurricane Katrina; and God’s Colorful Respite, a book written as a memorial to her late sister Virginia Elaine Akin Greene, who had married Bill’s former law partner, Thomas H. Greene.

The Coalsons have been members of All Saints Episcopal Church since the early 1960s.

They have two sons: William Lane Coalson, Jr. of Tampa, and Paul Akin Coalson of Mandarin. William is married to Luisa, and Paul’s wife is the former Kristine Skinner. They also have three grandchildren – stepgrandson Juan Miguel, and granddaughters Hannah, 18 and Emma, 14, of Mandarin.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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