On Thursday, March 20th, Dr. David Coffey passed away. Coffey was in his last semester at WKU as a transitional retiree of the agriculture department. He worked with several generations of students, encouraging them to travel the world and experience different cultures. Since 1992, WKU has sponsored Coffey’s group trips to places like Ecuador and Galapagos Islands.
The Hill has always been home to Coffey. After receiving his master’s degree at WKU, he earned his doctorate at Virginia Tech, then returned to WKU as a professor. He moved to a house on Chestnut Street from where he walked to work each day.
Dr. Jack Rudolph, Department Head of Agriculture, originally met Coffey while enrolled at Virginia Tech.
“He worked with multiple generations of students and faculty,” Rudolph said. “(He has taken) so many trips with students. It was a big deal. He probably taught more non-agriculture students than any other professors in this department.”
“We knew when he retired (rural sociology) wouldn’t have quite the zip as it did with him, just because of his approach. People can do a fine job in the classroom and not have that something extra, which he had. He had great rapport with the students.”
Smithland native Cory Dodds, a political science graduate, took rural sociology with Coffey in 2009, then later accompanied him on two trips abroad.
“The class was more or less infamous for the way that he taught it,” said Dodds. “And I knew I wanted to have that experience and get to know him better. So that’s why I initially wanted to take that class. I enjoyed being around him so much that I wanted to go to Ecuador with him.”
Dodds said he owes some of his success in life to the guidance he received from Coffey- including his current enrollment at Georgetown University.
“I was just a poor kid from rural Kentucky,” said Dodds. “And whenever I started Western, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t particularly have any dreams that I wanted to fulfill.
“But whenever I met with Dr. Coffey, he definitely instilled in me a desire to do and be more, and to pursue a life of service to others. And thanks to his guidance and his advice, and everything that he’s been for me, I went from being a poor kid from western Kentucky to a student at one of our nation’s top law schools. Without my other mentors and Dr. Coffey, there’s no way I’d be here. So he’s certainly had an impact on my life.”
Students and faculty will also miss the annual “Christmas soirees,” a tradition that began more than 20 years ago with students of Instructor Roger Dennis’ Floral Design Workshop.
“When Dennis started teaching, they began a tradition of going to Dr. Coffey’s and decorating. Shortly after, Dr. Coffey would have a Christmas Soiree, as he like to put it,” Rudolph said.
“There would be folks coming and going for hours. So it was kind of a tradition as far as the Agriculture department went.”
Rudolph mentioned that guests this past year noted Coffey was not his usual, active self.
“But even right up to the end, he was always the gracious host and welcoming individual,” said Rudolph. “And I think that’s how you would think of him as a teacher. He was always kind and gracious and welcoming to all groups of students.”
Coffey was a leader in the ‘People Learning Other Ways’ project, a collaboration between WKU and UK which helps bridge the gap between farmers and migrant workers. He received a WKU President’s Award for Diversity in 2010 for PLOW, as well as his work abroad with Partners for Americas.
Funeral arrangements will take place at J.C. Kirby Funeral Home in Bowling Green and will be released in the near future.