Community leader Coffill dies at 90

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The Union Democrat

One of Tuolumne County's most notable natives died early Friday morning at her Sonora home after a lengthy illness.

Marjorie Louise (Segerstrom) Coffill, 90, devoted her life to the community, education and her family, said those who knew her.

She was named Tuolumne County Citizen of the Year by the Sonora Lions Club in 1987, Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce in 1974, Alumnus of the Year by Sonora High School and given the Women of Distinction Award by the Soroptimist Club of Sonora.

In 1990, Mrs. Coffill also was one of the first five people named to Columbia College's Hall of Fame.

"She was one of the strongest voices in this area on behalf of the (41-year-old) college," said Dusty Rhodes, fellow charter Hall-of-Famer and the first president of Columbia College, retiring in 1979.

"She chaired the first president's advisory committee and continued to participate in the college in a strong, strong way until she became very ill about 18 months ago," he said. "She was a very dear person, deeply dedicated to this county. She felt involvement was the secret to a successful life."

Another fellow Hall of Fame member, Paul Becker, said Mrs. Coffill acted as a liaison between the college and community, and was instrumental in forming the Columbia College Foundation.

She served on the advisory committee for more than 20 years. She also was a donor to the college library and was the first person named a life member of the foundation.

Mrs. Coffill's dedication to education extended beyond the college.

She was a trustee of the Sonora High School District from 1967 to 1973. She was president of the Sonora Elementary School and Tuolumne County Council of PTA, and was given the honor of being named a life member of that organization.

She was a charter member of the Sonora branch of the American Association of University Women and one of its first presidents.

"She was very gracious, thoughtful, intelligent and always willing to help," said fellow AAUW charter member Nancy Rosasco, now of Nevada. "She was one of the most wonderful people I've ever known. She helped others in many ways that other people had no idea about."

Mrs. Coffill was also the last surviving charter member of the Alpha Iota chapter of Omega Nu, a community sorority.

When mental health services were first established in Tuolumne County, Mrs. Coffill served seven years on the Mental Health Advisory Board.

For many years, she was on the Tuolumne County Extension Committee of the Salvation Army. She supported Interfaith Community Social Services and was honorary chairwoman of its fundraising campaign.

An Episcopalian, she was a lifelong member of St. James Church in Sonora, where she served on the Vestry for many years. She was the first woman elected to the Vestry in the church and later became the first woman senior warden in the Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno.

Mrs. Coffill had a deep interest in history, particularly the role of women in Tuolumne County and the early West, her family said. She spoke to numerous groups on the subject and wrote for IMPRINT, the publication of the Associates of Stanford University Libraries.

In 1976, she served on the Tuolumne County Bicentennial Committee. She also researched family history and genealogy.

Mrs. Coffill was a member of the Tuolumne County Republican Women for more than 50 years and was one of its first presidents. She also served on the party's state Central Committee.

In 1970, she donated a 7,500-square-foot lot along Sonora Creek on South Washington Street to the City of Sonora. It is now the site of Coffill Park.

She's listed in "Who's Who in America," Who's Who in the West" and "Who's Who of American Women."

Mrs. Coffill was born in Sonora on June 11, 1917, to Pearl (Needham) Segerstrom and Eric J. Segerstrom.

She attended Sonora Elementary School and graduated in 1934 from Sonora Union High School.

She received her bachelor of arts degree with distinction from Stanford University in 1938, where she was a member of Cap and Gown, the women's honor society.

She returned to Sonora to work with her father for a year in his business, Sonora Abstract and Title Company. Then returned to Stanford to earn her master's degree in education in 1941. She also worked there on the staff of the dean of women.

After her graduation, she was social director of the women's campus at Pomona College, where she was also an instructor in psychology.

She entered the American Red Cross during World War II. After training in Washington, D.C., she was initially assigned to Hoff General Hospital in Santa Barbara. She spent the remainder of the war at Lemoore Naval Air Station as assistant to the field director.

After the war, she returned to Sonora and again worked with her father.

She married Sonora attorney William Coffill, also a Sonora native, in 1948. He died in 1989.

They had two children, William J. Coffill of Sonora and Eric J. Coffill of Sacramento. Both are attorneys.

She is also survived by two grandchildren, Sara Coffill and David Coffill, both of Sacramento; her sister, Christine Nietfeld of La Jolla; nieces, Erica Nietfeld Kelly of Berkeley and Park Nietfeld of Seattle, and numerous cousins.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at St. James Church (the Red Church) in Sonora. Private inurnment will occur later in the Sonora Masonic Cemetery.

Contact Lenore Rutherford at or 588-4529.

The Union Democrat
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