Carlin Coffman, a WWII veteran, teacher, coach.
A memorial service celebrating the life of Carlin W. Coffman, a 51 year Whittier resident, will be held at 3:00 pm on Friday, October 14th at East Whittier United Methodist Church located at 10005 Cole Road, Whittier.
Born April 15, 1921 in Anaheim, California, Carlin was a 1939 graduate of Anaheim High School. He attended Fullerton Junior College, but left to join the Navy immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He spent most of World War II as a Chief Pharmacists Mate stationed at the VA Hospital on the hills above Pearl Harbor.
After the war, he graduated from Whittier College and became a teacher, athletic coach and trainer at Fallbrook High School. He then went on to Bell Gardens High School and finally to Western High School in Anaheim, where he spent almost 30 years before retiring in 1981.
His first love was coaching track and cross country. During his tenure he helped develop many outstanding athletes. He also taught academic courses for his entire career.
Carlin was an avid outdoorsman, hiker, fisherman, and bike rider. He hiked 126 miles on the John Muir Trail with Boy Scout Troop 985 and biked around California with the Whittier Wheelmen. He was also a very talented artist, whose oil paintings and watercolors of the deserts, mountains and seascapes of the western USD have won awards at area art shows.
Carlin passed away on October 3, 2005 after a lengthy illness. Surviving are Mary Jean, his beloved wife of 54 years; children, Michael, Joann, and Frederick (Fritz), 3 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren, two sisters, Marjorie Saevig and Louise McKeever and loving nephews and nieces.
Carlin's kindness and joyful spirit have been a gift to all the lives he touched. He will be remembered with love by all who knew him. The family requests in lieu of flowers, donations be made in his name to the Society for Supranuclear Palsy (www.psp.org) or the East Whittier United Methodist Church. A private graveside service will be precede the memorial.
Published in Whittier Daily News on Oct. 13, 2005.
I could talk about Uncle Carlin in so many ways, and share hundreds of memories. First and always, he was a gentleman, a bright man and an excellent student always. He was a family man and dedicated to young people all his career. He was a quiet fellow who enjoyed a good laugh and generally set about to solve problems and resolve conflicts in a determined, purposeful, serious manner. Long after he retired, he volunteered as an instructor in several fields, and for example, worked as an assistant trainer for Western High School football teams, where he’d help tape ankles and arms of players before games, and make himself available on the sidelines to help injured players and administer first aid until medical personnel arrived.
As a young coach beginning around 1950, he knew most Orange County and Los Angeles high school coaches, as well as young John Wooden at UCLA and others. He coached almost all the sports, although track and cross country were his areas of expertise. He also helped coach my cousin Dr. Frederick (Fritz) Coffman, PhD as a Monte Vista High School (Whittier) athlete who won the SS CIF Discus championship as a senior, and competed at Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, where the was a teammate of Olympic high jumper Dwight Stone. While Fritz was a big, strong young man and a superb athlete, both he and Uncle Carlin always attributed his athletic success most of all to technique and strategy, which Uncle Carlin helped each him.
As a boy growing up in Anaheim in the 1920s and 1930s, Carlin took full advantage of the rural setting then, the beach, the ocean, the mountains and the desert, and for all his life. He and his friends liked to go to Newport Harbor — perhaps by Red Line cars or street cars, or maybe in someone’s jalopy, and at first on their bicycles — where they used paddle boards to travel on the waters around and onto the islands and the sand bars that later became upscale residential islands. He hiked, camped, fished and just about everything else a young sportsman could do then, and through his curious and studious nature, learned and studied everything he undertook.
He competed in four or five sports, which a boy could do then without much inconvenience. For the rest of his life, he remembered and cheerfully told us about playing football, basketball and baseball, along with running track at Anaheim High. There were fewer than ten high schools in Orange County then, so he became acquainted with some athletes from all of them, and from some Los Angeles County high schools, too.
He was about 5’9”, 165 pounds, both determined and talented, one who loved sport and competition, and a good learner who later taught and coached hundreds of athletes himself. One of his famous teammates was Ted Shipkey, who later played NFL football and later joined the family tire business on South Spadra/Harbor. Another was Noah Sweeney, who coached for many years at Savannah High School in Anaheim. A third was Mr. Bob Handsfield, father of our classmate Rod Handsfield, ’67 and his sister Heidi. Mr. Handsfield was an excellent sprinter and excelled in other events and sports, too.
The best athlete among Uncle Carlin’s and Mr. Handsfield’s teammates was the legendary Bill Lewis, who became the equivalent of an All-CIF First Team football quarterback and baseball pitcher, and also played varsity basketball and competed in track and field. Bill was recruited and received a scholarship offer to play football at USC but chose UC Santa Barbara instead, and planned to play several sports there. Unfortunately, he died instantly in a traffic accident north of Los Angeles, before he reached the campus. Both Uncle Carlin and Mr. Handsfield always said that Bill was good enough to play in the NFL and MLB. They played a high caliber of sports at Anaheim High in those days, and for many years previously and afterwards.
Other Anaheim High friends of these gentlemen included Mr. Bob Fluor and Mr. Penhall, and a long list of judges, attorneys, physicians, teachers, ranchers, growers, businessmen and others. Anaheim was small enough then that a citizen could know virtually everyone in town by sight and many by name as friends or acquaintances.
Uncle Carlin took me camping, horseback riding, to the beach, to the mountains, and elsewhere with his older son Mike practically from the time I could first stand up. He taught me to swim and dive. I was always welcome at his house off Telegraph Avenue in Whittier, across from the Candlewood Country Club, where he had an extensive library, including books on just about every sport; a backyard with over a dozen varieties of fruit trees, including several unusual ones for this part of the country, and at least one box tortoise for thirty years or more. His box tortoises would indefatigably find ways to dig their way under fences to go escape, and just as doggedly, Uncle Carlin would carry then a few yards back and block their escape until next time. He had a Corgi dog and several fish and birds, too.
I remember in particular that Uncle Carlin enjoyed driving us down to Carlsbad, CA — beginning in pre-freeway days, or at least on the 6-lane (total) Santa Ana Freeway before the 405, through a dozen small beach towns, to enjoy Plein Air painting. He also enjoyed exploring the tide pools, and he’d dive for abalone while it was legal. He had tremendous energy and vigor.
One time early in his teaching and coaching career, Uncle Carlin read one of John Wooden’s books about basketball fundamentals, met him, and attended teachers’ meetings where Coach Wooden went, too. Uncle Carlin was assigned to coach the B basketball team at his high school, and used Coach Wooden’s system and methods. Carlin said it was difficult for the boys to learn but they all persisted. The boys won their league that year for the first time in a while. Try it: it’s not easy at first. Uncle Carlin attributed their championship in part to their superior passing skills.
He was prepared to coach just about any sport if necessary, including swimming and water polo. If the need arose, he could substitute for a coach or even coach a class or sport until a permanent coach could be hired.
He went out riding his 10 or 15-speed bicycle well into his 70s and 80s, too. I don’t think he ever exceeded his high school weight by more than ten pounds, if that.
Of course he was a major influence on me as I grew up and later, too, and so was Aunt Mary Jean, a sweet, pretty lady, great reader, and a former teacher. Both his sons Mike and Fritz earned PhDs in science, and his daughter Joann was a good friend, too, a Buena Park High School alumna, around 1965.
I’ve always been especially proud of Uncle Carlin, and grateful to him as well. I miss him, and Aunt Mary Jean, too.
When I think of Orange County, and Orange County people, I think of my uncle and aunt, their friends and classmates, my mom and her sister, their parents, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and great aunt and uncles, as well as the earlier generations of Fullerton people many of us knew. They were wonderful people, Orange County was wonderful, and in more ways than not, it still is.