It was a dark and stormy night... oops wrong story.
Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee... oops wrong place.
Here goes, Robert Lee Coker Jr, born June 28, 1945 in Jackson Mississippi (do you all remember how you learned to spell Mississippi - crooked back, hump back?) into the family of Robert Lee Coker (teacher at Mississippi College in nearby Clinton), Rosalind Talbert Coker (homemaker) and almost 3 year sister Eleanor Ann Coker.
At the age of 3 months we moved to Memphis where Dad started a new position teaching optics at Southern College of Optometry. Louise Cramer's (CHS '63) Dad was the President and was very kind to Dad. We lived at 1877 Cowden near the intersection of Central and McLean. I still remember our telephone number (70421-W). I received my first Lionel train at the age of three. You could put little pellets in the smokestack that would cause it to smoke. It was fun (still have it). There were lots of kids of all ages in the neighborhood so there was always someone to play with. The family behind us had a mansion facing Central. Their back yard probably spanned at least six Cowden backyards. They let us play baseball in their yard. It was great. My childhood hero was Stan Musial of the St Louis Cardinals. We walked to Idewild Elementary School where I attended grades 1 - 4. I met many of you there. I had Miss's "Streli" (sp?), Heacock, Crook and Henderson and of course Miss Stanton was the principal. Mom resumed college during this time at Memphis State. One of her professors was Paul's Dad - Dr. Sisco. Mom always appreciated Dr. Sisco for making an "older lady" feel comfortable in class. She graduated in 1955 (I believe CHS Coach Fortner was in her class). She taught at Hollywood Jr High for a couple of years then the rest of the 20+ years was at Kingsbury High (American History). After I graduated from CHS, Dad changed jobs and finished his teaching career at Christian Brothers College teaching math.
In the summer of 1955 we moved to the house at 250 Patterson near Memphis State where Mom still lives. Dad died peacefully in his easy chair while watching UT play football in a SEC playoff game on December 8, 2001 at the age of 93. I walked to Training School on the campus of Memphis State for grades 5 - 9. I am fortunate to have met many more of you there. I had my first date during that time - Linda Wood (Wade). Sports were important to me then but our 9th grade basketball team was special to me - Mike Hines, Gene Fulghum, Harold Hatcher and Rob Vanatta (son of MSU's basketball coach). Gene's Dad, Coach Fulghum, was our coach. Paul Sisco and Don Horne were statisticians. JoAnn Hopper (Baker) was the Homecoming Queen. That class was very special.
I broke my leg playing baseball in the summer after 9th grade and was on crutches when I entered Central as a freshman in Miss Cohen's homeroom (sister Eleanor, CHS '60, had preceded me). Again maybe every class feels this way but CHS '63 was mighty special. You are a great group - be proud of who you were then and who you are now.
After Central I attended Memphis State and graduated with a BS in math in May 1967. I married Susan Elizabeth Branyan in August 1967. Susan has Memphis ties but her Dad was an Army Chaplain for nearly 30 years so she lived in many places - Japan after WWII, Virginia, Georgia, France and Germany. We are still together. I thank Raymond Spence, Gene Fulghum and Mike Hines for being part of the wedding party. I started teaching math at brand new Wooddale Jr/Sr High in Parkway Village a couple of days later - no honeymoon for us. CHS Coach Williams was the new assistant principal there.
In the fall of 1969 after two years of teaching I joined the Air Force. Our only child, Robert Neil, was born in January 1970 in Memphis. The name idea was from Neil Armstrong - Susan was pregnant at the time of the first moon landing. I "impersonated an officer" for almost seven years. My first primary assignment was in air defense at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington (the TAC of SEA-TAC airport). We arrived in April 1970 and didn't see Mt. Rainier until June. It was a magnificent sight - we could see it from our apartment window. Yes it does rain frequently there but the two or three months in the summer are gorgeous - the bluest skies and most pleasant temperatures. Next I spent an "unaccompanied" year at Murphy Dome Air Force Station near Fairbanks, Alaska. One of the highlights of the year was taking the Alaska State Railroad to Mt. McKinley and camping/hiking for a couple of days. After cross training into the computer programming field my last assignment was at Luke AFB - west of Phoenix. One of the summers there was a record setter for number of days with highs over 110. It is dry heat but it is hot. We still had allergies because they do so much irrigation for agriculture there. One of the prettiest drives (we made it many times) was the Apache Trail. Once when Mom and Dad came for a visit we drove them on the trail. After so many ooohs and aaaahs Neil finally piped in that he was tried of seeing all those pretty things. While there I attended evening classes at Arizona State in Tempe. Completed the equivalent of a major in accounting.
Left the Air Force in late summer of 1976 and began work as an accountant at the Baptist Sunday School Board (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist denomination) in Nashville. While looking for a place to live I stayed with my aunt and uncle with Susan and Neil remaining in Memphis. Neil started 1st grade at Training (now called Campus School). You all thought we were reform school kids coming from a place called Training. Neil was into crayons then. When Susan asked Neil if a certain friend of his was black, he said she is "burnt sienna." We eventually bought our first house just outside Franklin, Tennessee near Interstate 65 and Highway 96. Franklin is Susan's favorite place. Susan was able to be a stay-at-home Mom during this time for which I am thankful. I took evening classes at UT-Nashville and completed the coursework for an MBA. However, I moved shortly thereafter to take a new job near Dallas so I never went back to take the comprehensive exam.
Began work in the fall of 1979 at MOSTEK Corporation (manufactured computer chips) as an accounting systems analyst. Susan and Neil joined me in February 1980 when our house was completed in Coppell, Texas. Was laid off in June 1981 and started work a month later with Zale Jewelers doing the same type work. Left after a year and went to Gearhart Industries (oil field services) in Fort Worth doing computer stuff. Eventually was laid off in January 1986 and was rehired in May 1986. Gearhart was eventually bought by Halliburton. I left in the summer of 1993 before Dick Cheney took over.
Neil graduated from Coppell High in 1988 and went to University of Texas - Austin. He graduated in 1992 with a degree in Geography and Russian studies. During this time he established a pen pal in Ukraine whom he later visited. He took a post graduation trip to England where he visited West Coker. Folks were very curious about him since a Coker had not been there in ages. Neil has traveled several times to Russia and Ukraine. He taught English at a business institute in Ukraine one year. He traveled with his church group to Siberia a couple of times. He worked for the Institute of Bible Translation in Moscow for a couple of years. He is single and now works for Regency stamp auctioneers in St. Louis since September 2000. Neil converted a hobby into a job. We visited him for Mother's Day. Went to nearby St. Charles on the Missouri River Lewis and Clark left on their 1804 expedition from St. Charles. The town recently erected a statue of Lewis and Clark and the dog - I guess anticipating the interest in the bicentennial.
I began work as a computer programmer/analyst for MCI in August 1993 (the summer of the great flood and the weekend of CHS's 30th reunion) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So far I have survived countless layoffs and other company ups and downs (you've heard of WorldCom). There is still instability but is now mixed with cautious optimism. Susan is a part time clerical worker (5+ years) for Stamats Communication - a trade magazine publisher. She cared for her Mom for several years before moving her to a nursing home here. Her Mom died in March after years of Alzheimer's.
Iowa is cold in the winter and surprisingly humid in the summer. Cedar Rapids is a nice sized town of 120,000. There are lots and lots of trees. We live in an older part of town about two miles from downtown where we both work. I just completed a Certified Internet Webmaster program (Master Web Designer).
We did most of our traveling and adventurous stuff when we were in the Air Force. We hope to take "dream vacation" #1 in September. Main stops include Utah (Bryce and Zion) and Arizona (North Rim, Grand Canyon).
Sorry we will not be able to attend the 40th reunion. Best wishes to all.