Mary Ellen Coker Continues to Support Campbellsville University

Mary Ellen Coker

Mary Ellen Coker

By Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator

Mary Ellen Coker supports Campbellsville University because she says it's "our" institution. Mary Ellen, 85, widow of the late Dr. H.E. "Jim" Coker, a former CU Christian studies professor, says she gives to Campbellsville University because her husband loved where he taught from 1967 to 1989—at the institution they both loved. "I want to keep it up as part of my giving," she says.

A 1970 graduate, Mary Ellen donates $1,000 each year to a scholarship in her husband's honor, who she was married to for 59 years, and she has named the university as a beneficiary in her will. When asked why she still donates, she smiles and says, "Do you remember how hard he worked in raising funds?" Following his retirement as a professor, Jim chose to take the reins on fundraising. Mary Ellen says he couldn't ask others to give without his donation being the biggest one, but he loved fundraising and didn't mind asking anyone for money to benefit CU. She says he was determined to establish at least one endowed chair—and he did! He raised $500,000 for an endowed chair in Christian studies.

An endowed chair is a faculty position that is supported by the annual payout from a privately funded endowment. The endowment may cover the faculty salary, research and travel stipends, or other associated costs, and continues in perpetuity.

Looking Back
Mary Ellen remembers CU as it was in the late 1960s, when the Cokers came to what was then Campbellsville College, where "things were not very well kept." Jim's office was in Druien Hall, and Mary Ellen says he would take his vacuum cleaner to clean his office. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," she says, "and the whole campus needed to be cleaned."

Over time, the campus received the care it needed. "It is absolutely marvelous the way Campbellsville University has grown and how pretty the campus is," she says. "It's so beautiful with all the flowers in the summer. It's fun to take people by the campus."

Mary Ellen, who retired after 20 years of teaching at Taylor County Elementary School, says she received a good education at Campbellsville College. "The college certainly prepared teachers well," she says. Mary Ellen donated $500 through the retired teachers association, to which she belongs, to the new School of Education building.

Mary Ellen attended the University of Louisville for a year while Jim was attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After that, she went to Elizabethtown Community College when Jim was the pastor for First Baptist Church Hodgenville. Finally, she came to Campbellsville College for her last two years. She also earned her master's and rank I.

The Joys of Teaching
Mary Ellen taught fifth grade at Taylor County Elementary School and loved teaching. She tried substitute teaching but didn't like it as well because she enjoyed knowing her children's names and their personalities. "When you make children start loving you, they behave," she says.

Jim was "meant to be a teacher," Mary Ellen says. He came from the pastorate, but she says it was a good transition. She says her husband was known as a hard professor, but he got many letters and calls after his students went to the seminary thanking him for the education they received from him. "When his students went to the seminary, they were ahead of everybody," Mary Ellen says.

Laying Down Roots for the Future
Jim died April 17, 2003, and Mary Ellen remains busy doing some of the activities they loved, such as gardening. She raises a smaller garden now with vegetables, including pole beans, corn, sugar snap peas, butter beans and tomatoes. She also has asparagus, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

Like her garden, Mary Ellen is planting seeds for tomorrow with her donations to Campbellsville University. Her gifts will make a difference in the lives of students for years to come, helping to shape a better tomorrow.

Contact Benji Kelly at 270.789.5061 or jbkelly@campbellsville.edu today to learn how you can support the future of Campbellsville University.

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