These four people improved all of our lives


The new year has been hard on Tuolumne County's heritage.

In the space of just over a month, we have lost Marjorie Coffill, Harriet De Ferrari, Helen McGee and Bill Servente.

Although each had diverse accomplishments and talents, all were community mainstays for decades. Although we regret their passing, each dedicated most of their long lives to Tuolumne County.

Together they lived more than 350 years, most of them in the Sonora area.

Coffill and De Ferrari, both members of pioneer families, were born and raised here.

McGee was born in Los Angeles and Servente in La Grange, but both had family ties to Tuolumne County, moved here while still young and dedicated themselves to the community.

A brief look at their lives and accomplishments:

? Marjorie Coffill, who died at 90 on Jan. 11, was a leader in education for most of her adult life. A 1934 graduate of Sonora High School, she went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University.

A Red Cross volunteer during World War II, she returned to Sonora after the war, married attorney William Coffill and dedicated herself to giving Tuolumne County's young people educational opportunities.

She served for decades on Columbia College's President's Advisory Committee, was a Sonora High School trustee in the 1960s and '70s and won numerous community honors.

? Harriett De Ferrari, who died at age 95 on Feb. 5, led Tuolumne County's Elections Office for 30 years.

She not only delivered efficient and accurate vote counts, but believed going to the polls was a privilege and that a single vote could make a difference.

A charter member of the Business and Professional Women's Association, she encouraged females to enter business or government and, for her efforts, was named to the county Chamber of Commerce's Honor Roll.

She also had an abiding interest in the area's past and, with husband Carlo De Ferrari, was active in the county historical society for decades.

? Helen McGee, who died at 83 on Friday, for nearly 40 years was co-owner of The Union Democrat.

She and her husband, the late Harvey McGee, bought the paper in 1959. Under their stewardship, circulation grew five-fold, color photos and wire service news were added and local news coverage was stepped up.

Thanks largely to Mrs. McGee's expertise, The Democrat made a graceful transition to the computer age.

She was also a bridge player, an avid golfer, a skilled pilot who flew in cross country races, and matriarch of a large family whose five children would over the years give her 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

? Bill Servente, who died at 84 on Monday, for 30 years was owner, manager, bartender and master of ceremonies at a Sonora institution Servente Grocery on South Washington Street. Although its shelves offered a few staples and a handful of Italian specialities, Servente's was more importantly a community gathering place where all were welcome.

Although patrons ran a wide gamut, Bill Servente's ready smile and sense of humor joined them in a rare camaraderie.

In appreciation, hundreds of his friends and customers last year elected him honorary town marshal of the 2007 Mother Lode Roundup.

Sadly, these four outstanding citizens are no longer with us.

But, on a brighter side, we will for years to come enjoy the outstanding community that Marjorie Coffill, Harriet De Ferrari, Helen McGee and Bill Servente helped build.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

The Union Democrat
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