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Senior Profile: Stella "Aladeen" Coffelt, Lopez Island

Aladeen Coffelt moved to Lopez as a 16-year-old in 1943. Born in Olympia, WA on January 29, 1929 in her grandparent's apartment, which was located above a dance hall, Aladeen was a farm girl through and through. Her parents named her Stella Aladeen Bray. She was named Stella for one of her mother's friends and Aladeen after an Indian girl her father knew. "I was thrilled to death with the name (Aladeen)," she said of adopting her middle name for her first one.

She and her two elder brothers (and six younger siblings as they were born) were raised on a farm in South Bay, on the outskirts of Olympia. "The stump farm," as Aladeen called it, had been logged and had huge stumps all around. The farm was at the very end of a long road named after her grandfather, Dan Smith. It was so remote that in the winter the only way to get to the main road was to have the horses pull a sled through the thick drifts of snow. In the summertime the road was so rutted that Aladeen's father had to park his car miles away on the main road and catch a ride on a horse-drawn wagon with her grandfather.

Aladeen was at home on the farm, however, always happy to take care of the cows, chickens, horses, pigs and other animals, as well as help with the chores.

For a while, her grandfather had a job cutting cord wood for the railroad and Aladeen and her older brother would help. The pair, just eight and 10 years old respectively, earned 10 cents a cord chopping huge rounds and stacking them. "We were lucky if we earned 20 cents a day," Aladeen said of the back-breaking work. "But we didn't have anything to spend it on." The closest store was only four miles away as the crow flies, but it was better than 10 miles away by road.

Aladeen lived in South Bay and attended school until the eighth grade when her father took a job as a sheet metal worker for Boeing. At 14 years old, she and her family moved to Burien. Their new home in the city seemed like the lap of luxury, as there was electricity, indoor plumbing (for the first-time ever Aladeen didn't have to heat and haul bath water) and other conveniences farm life didn't offer.

But the family's time in Burien was short lived. Aladeen's parents felt the city was unsafe for their children, as crime was on the rise. "It was really bad," she recounted. The solution, however, is what brought her family to the island. Her parents found a place for sale on Lopez, near where the airport is today, and purchased it in 1943. The family moved to the island while Aladeen's father continued to work at Boeing.

The tiny, two-room home had actually been the telephone building before Aladeen's family moved in. It had neither running water or electricity. "The house was so funny," she remembered. "To open the oven door you actually had to open the door and stand outside."

Aladeen and five of her siblings slept in one room, while her mother and youngest brother slept in the other room. "It was a very small place but it was filled with love," she said.

Aladeen didn't mind the absence of running water or electricity too much, she had missed farm life and was glad to be out of the city. "I loved everything about it," Aladeen said of farming. "I thought it was the best way to live."

While Aladeen's younger sisters attended classes in the newly consolidated school, she worked. "It was during the war and most of the young men were away," she said. "So, I did a lot of farm work."

She milked cows, mowed and raked hay (there was no bailer on the island yet) and drove wagons filled with sheaves to the threshing machine.

About a year after moving to the island, in 1944, Aladeen married John Cochran, a young man who was born and raised on Lopez. The couple first lived in a cabin off of Center Road. That was where they were living when their first son, Larry Cochran, was born. The young couple later moved to a home near the present day location of Horse Drawn Farms. That is where their daughter, Susanne Cochran, was born.

Later the couple and their two children built a small home near the intersection of Ferry Road and Center Road. Shortly thereafter their third child, Lonnie Cochran, was born. Finally, the family settled in a home near Hummel Lake and their fourth child was born, Lynn Cochran. All four of Aladeen's children were raised on the island.

Her eldest son Larry, still lives on Lopez with his family, while Susanne makes her home in Montana and Lonnie and his family live in Anacortes. Her youngest son, Lynn, passed away of lung cancer.

Aladeen started one of the first preschools on the island. It began as she was babysitting for local families. Soon parents realized she had a knack for teaching the young children the phonetic alphabet and how to read. "All of my kids could read by the time they were four," she said, admitting she herself is an avid reader. Later, Aladeen became a teacher's aid at Lopez School, a position she held for 15 years, before quitting in 1987.

Aladeen and John's marriage eventually ended in divorce. It was one of the family's dearest friends, Lawrence Coffelt, who Aladeen had known since her first years on the island who she fell in love with and married. "He was one of the smartest guys I ever knew," Aladeen said of Lawrence, who has passed away in 2004. "He could fix anything."

Today, Aladeen has 17 grandchildren and just as many great grandchildren. Her oldest grandchild is 40 years old and her youngest grandchild is 16 years old.

If you would like to suggest someone for Spotlight on Seniors please e-mail csmith@islandsweekly.net.

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