Way We Were: Blanche & Daniel Coffman, Jr.

Way We Were: Blanche & Daniel Coffman, Jr.
The Coffman Family: Elizabeth, Caesar, Julie, Dan, Blanche, Ginny, Emily

Whether traveling to an airshow, a college reunion or to see their children and grandchildren scattered all over the world, Dan and Blanche Coffman have been taking to the sky in their Cessna 172 since 1993. “You’re 60 – get yourself an airplane,” Blanche said to Dan. 

A former naval aviator, Dan got his wings in 1955 and served as a “special weapons delivery pilot” over the South China Sea with the Pacific 7th Fleet. On his return to the states, he continued to fly with the Navy Reserves and with friends Hal Lynch and Dewitt Dawkins. Dan’s Wright Brothers “Master Pilot Award” certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration hangs on the wall of the Coffmans’ Riverside condominium.

But before beginning their globetrotting journeys, the couple’s journey to the altar – from Blanche’s hometown of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Dan’s in Richmond, Virginia – started 35 years earlier on a blind date in 1958.

Naval aviator Dan Coffman, 1955

Naval aviator Dan Coffman, 1955

Blanche said, “He had just broken up with his girlfriend.” Dan interjected, “My buddy said his girlfriend could fix me up with a date. I said I’d go if my date was as pretty as his girl. We went out and in walked this gorgeous girl,” he said, gesturing to Blanche.

The Vanderbilt University law student and “the cutest thing to ever come out of Thomas School of Nursing,” according to Dan, had dinner at the Flaming Steer in Nashville.

While in law school, Dan struggled financially. He was going to school on the GI Bill, living on $110 a month and the $2 per game he got for refereeing football games. Blanche would feed him lima beans, which she admits were not very well cooked. She laughed as she described how they went “plink, plink” on the plate when she served them.

Dan’s father, whom he credits with being the most influential person in his life, helped in many ways. Although he had only an eighth-grade education, Dan Coffman, Sr., ascended in the ranks as a career Sears Roebuck furniture specialist in Chicago, then moved to Daytona where he became an executive with Top Value Stamp Company.

In 1959, Blanche was living in an apartment and working in a doctor’s office in Nashville while Dan had graduated from law school, staying at his parents’ home in Daytona and taking a law review class to hone up on Florida law in preparation for the bar exam.

Dan had also applied to the FBI to become a special agent. He had not heard back from the FBI, but he heard from a friend that Blanche was going out with a doctor. He borrowed money from his father and went to Belk Lindsey Department Store in Daytona, bought an engagement ring (the same ring Blanche has been wearing for 58 years), borrowed money for gas and hopped in his red Opal stick shift car and drove straight through to Nashville.

Blanche agreed to meet him at the same diner, the Flaming Steer, for dinner. Dan said, “I didn’t have much money and she ordered this big meal – meat and potatoes with gravy. When I asked her to marry me she dropped her fork and didn’t eat another bite!”

Blanche joked about traveling to Florida to meet the elder Coffmans, saying, “I passed inspection, I guess.” She suggested they drive around Florida and count the number of lawyers in The Yellow Pages of each town while trying to decide where Dan could practice law. Dan said he was glad she was still working because he was flat broke and could not seem to get a job.

Finally he got an interview with a firm in Jacksonville. Although they had no openings at the time, as fate or luck or divine intervention would have it, he met a pilot from Craig Field and during the conversation Dan mentioned that he had been flying jets out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville as a “weekend warrior” and the fellow mentioned that the Jacksonville firm of Hamilton and Bowden was looking for a pilot.

Blanche and Dan Coffman cut their wedding cake Oct. 8, 1960.

Blanche and Dan Coffman cut their wedding cake Oct. 8, 1960.

Dan said, “I lucked into that job and they got a two-fer. I was hired as a pilot and a lawyer as soon as I passed the bar. My dad drove up from Daytona with a telegram saying I’d passed, so I called my sweetie in Nashville and two days later I was with the leading labor law firm in Jacksonville.

“Then I got a call from the FBI saying J. Edgar Hoover wanted to talk to me. I met with the agent who said I would go to Quantico. Blanche pointed out that I had done my job for the government, which included 96 carrier landings – many at night,” he said.

The couple married October 8, 1960 at First Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and still joke about the length of reception line. Blanche’s mother was the youngest of eight children and her father “was near the end of 12” so it’s no wonder when Dan shook someone’s hand he then whispered to Blanche, “Who was that?” Her response: “I’m not sure, but I think it’s one of my first cousins.”

The Coffmans established a home on Edgewood Avenue in 1960, but it wasn’t until five years after their marriage that Blanche’s professional nursing career came to an end. In the next five years their lives changed dramatically with the arrival of four daughters: Elizabeth, 1965, Julie, 1966, Ginny, 1969 and Emily, 1970.

Under doctor’s orders for bedrest during one of her pregnancies, housekeeper and long-time friend Bernice Floyd quit all her other clients to care for the growing family. In appreciation, since Bernice did not drive, Blanche gave Bernice’s husband her Ford Country Squire station wagon.

The Coffman girls were involved in every imaginable activity – ballet classes, academic and musical endeavors, student government, athletics, choirs and choruses at Riverside Presbyterian Day School and The Bolles School. The entire family was involved in church functions and programs since Blanche and Dan have been members of Riverside Presbyterian Church since 1962. They have served as elders and been on numerous boards and committees.

In the 1970s, Dan and Pastor Harry Beverly worked to establish Riverside Tradition House for recovering alcoholics, which is still a vital part of the community. He worked on the Literacy Action program, served on the board of the Children’s Home and was president of the Jacksonville Exchange Program.

Blanche worked at Riverside Presbyterian Day School from 1985, until retiring in 1995, as development director and editor of the Riverside Review. She was instrumental in starting the Meals on Wheels program, was treasurer of the Symphony Guild and Planned Parenthood; she was on the Jax Bar Auxiliary, the Bolles Mothers’ Association and a member of the Stokesia Garden Circle.

Dan was busy founding and maintaining his practice in 1965, which became Coffman, Coleman, Andrews and Grogan, P.A. He retired for the first time in 1998, practiced state and federal court mediation from 1998 until 2008, when he joined the law firm of Holland and Knight from which he retired in 2016.

Despite work and community involvement, the Coffmans still found time to play golf and spend time at their lake house with their daughters. Blanche loves to cook, but Dan teases that he hasn’t gotten a home-cooked meal since they gave up their home on Timuquana Road and live in the Sonora quadruplex, named after a longtime tenant and friend. Their Riverside location makes walking to restaurants in 5 Points entirely too tempting.

Blanche and Dan Coffman

Blanche and Dan Coffman

The Coffmans are proud of their daughters’ accomplishments. Dr. Elizabeth Coffman, a professor at Loyola University; Rev. Julie Hester, associate pastor at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N. Carolina.; her husband Rev. Dan Hester, is a Methodist minister. Ginny Tate is a teacher who works with autistic children. She and her husband, Ben, live in Chipping Norton, England. Emily Krunic and her husband, Ogi, live in Liberia, Africa where she is the USAID senior foreign service officer.

“The most exciting thing is having all of our daughters and the grandchildren together for a couple of days once a year,” said Blanche. “If it wasn’t for the girls, we wouldn’t be such world travelers.”

Dan mentioned England, Rwanda, Nairobi, Kenya and destinations in the states as places they have been, and there are many more air shows to zip off to this summer and upcoming fall.

Despite many blessings throughout their lives, it hasn’t all been blue skies.

Dan contracted scarlet fever during his childhood in Chicago and was quarantined with his mother in the family apartment over a beauty parlor. He spent most of his time listening to the radio and recalls hearing President Franklin Roosevelt had died. The doctor informed the family that Dan needed penicillin but there was none to be had because of the war. Dan’s father called the president of Sears, Robert Wood, who then called Illinois Governor Dwight Green, who somehow managed to get the penicillin delivered to the doctor that very night. “He came over with the biggest needle I’ve ever seen,” Dan remarked.

On her 70th birthday, Nov. 13, 2006, Blanche was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent the difficult treatment with faith, grace and the joyful spirit that Dan said was a contributing factor in his initial attraction to her. They are looking forward to their 58th wedding anniversary this fall.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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