WORTHINGTON - Worthington resident and longtime southwest Minnesota devotee Julane Coyer will celebrate her 102nd birthday on Feb. 12.
The second of nine children, Coyer was born in 1917 in Thompson, Iowa and spent her childhood in Martin County, Minnesota. Because she shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, Coyer has made a study of Lincoln’s life. She has made pilgrimages to Lincoln’s birthplace and home, Mary Todd’s home, and other significant Lincoln sites. Two lessons from Abraham Lincoln have stood out to her - hard work, and getting an education.
Those values were consistent with what she learned from her parents. Living on a farm required elbow grease and cooperation. Coyer helped out at home by caring for her younger siblings, a task that brought her satisfaction.
“My mother never had to hire a babysitter,” Coyer said, proudly.
The family didn’t just work hard. They had fun together, too. Coyer fondly recalled the smell of her mother’s homemade bread, which wafted through the house and welcomed her home after school on weekdays. The family would devour a whole loaf together along with a jar of homemade grape jelly.
Their household was also full of music. Coyer’s dad played the violin and loved to dance, particularly the waltz. Coyer often accompanied him on the piano.
In an era when many girls didn’t have educational or career opportunities, Coyer’s parents were mavericks in their community.
“My parents insisted on our education,” Coyer said. In fact, seven of the nine children (including Coyer) completed college degrees.
After high school, Coyer attended Fairmont Normal Training, a competitive one-year program for people studying to become teachers. Out of 13 students, only Coyer and two others got job offers at the end of the year.
“Mom and Dad instilled in us a love of learning,” said Coyer. This attitude carried her into her teaching career with an enthusiastic spirit.
In 1936, 18-year-old Coyer began teaching at a rural school in Minnesota. She was not intimidated by her young age and fearlessly taught the first eight grades, sometimes with 20 kids in the classroom at a time.
Frequently Coyer wrote on her classroom chalkboard, “Learning is fun. The more you learn, the more fun it is.” That mantra is part of her even decades later and defined her perspective as a teacher. What she loved most about teaching was watching students learn and grow.
In 1962 Coyer taught a year in a Minneapolis elementary school, but missed her home near Round Lake. A country girl at heart, Coyer did not prefer to live in a big city, so she came home to southwest Minnesota. She finished her degree at Mankato State Teachers College (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) and continued teaching.
Not long after Coyer began her teaching career, the Great Depression hit the United States. Her hearty spirit hardly noticed.
“We didn’t realize it was a depression,” she said. “Times were hard, but we had a wonderful family.”
This resilience has been an asset to her throughout her life. As Coyer married and started a family, she passed on her love of learning to her son, Brian, who taught college for many years and now practices law in Michigan.
Coyer is the last living member of the family she grew up in. She misses her parents and siblings but says, “I’ve had a wonderful life.” She remains thankful for her health and her sound mental faculties.
Coyer has devoted her life to learning. After all she has learned, there’s one lesson she wants to makes sure the next generation is taught.
“Be yourself, and get as much education as you can,” she said.