Wilbert E. Coats (Will) was born March 11, 1936, in Bismarck, N.D. He was the son of Ernest and Mae Coats and one of nine siblings. A graduate of Bismarck Junior College and Minot State University (both in North Dakota) with a degree in speech pathology, he married Fay Coats of Turtle Lake, N.D on May 28, 1961.
In the fall of 1961, Will took a job as a speech therapist — providing services in Othello and a number of surrounding towns — and moved with his new wife to Othello, sight unseen. They made their way west towing a U-Haul trailer. Washington is “The Evergreen State,” so when all signs of trees and green vegetation disappeared around Ritzville, Wash., they stopped at a gas station to make sure they were reading the map correctly. They were! Will and Fay settled into life in Othello thinking they would stay for several years. However, Othello living proved to be very much to their liking and they were soon active in community life. Their children, Jodi Lynn and Scott Allan, were born and raised there.
In 1978 Will changed his teaching focus to the classroom and accepted a full-time position at Hiawatha Elementary School, where he taught third and fourth grade until his retirement in 1991. Will was honored as one of the top three teachers in Washington state in 1981. He was active in the Washington Education Association, as well as the National Education Association, continually advocating for programs and systems to promote learning among his students. Retirement from teaching didn’t mean retirement from work. He worked in medical records at Columbia Basin Health Association and was a travel agent at Creative Travel in Othello.
Throughout his life he was active in the local community. He was instrumental in the foundation of Othello’s Migrant Day Care Center. He was a Boy Scout leader, served on the board of the Othello Community Museum and the Sandhill Crane Festival, volunteered at the Police Department and the Columbia Basin Wildlife Refuge and was an active member of Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
Will loved the Columbia Basin Wildlife Refuge, where he volunteered for over 20 years. His family cherishes fond memories of hiking, fishing, birding, and adventure-seeking in the refuge. These interests led Will to participate in the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival and he served on the Crane Festival Planning Committee up until the time of his death.
Will is survived by his wife Fay; daughter Jodi Warren (John Warren) and son Scott (Joclyn Coats); grandchildren Noah and Reya Coats and step-grandchildren Jessica and Harry Warren; his siblings Mary Schatz and Robert Coats and numerous nieces and nephews. His parents and his siblings Eva, Ruby, Evelyn, Jim, Rose and Norma preceded him in death.
Services will be held at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Othello at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Project Wildlife Adventure, Central Basin Audubon Society, PO Box 86, Moses Lake, WA 98837.