The man, the myth and the legend, Coe Johnson III, battled to remain with family and friends yet transitioned to his next adventure July 9, 2019. The center of every gathering, no one left his presence without hearing a story of his escapades. Lifelong resident of Lewis County, Coe Willard Johnson III was born April 13, 1942, to Dorothy (Phillips) and Coe Johnson II in Centralia, Wash. With three older sisters, Coe was adored from the moment he was born.
He graduated, barely according to him, from Centralia High School in 1961, and from the stories he told, the school would never be the same. While skipping school, Coe spied a pretty cheerleader, offered her a ride home and the 61 year love affair with Sharon Orloske began. They were married March 30, 1963, and they made their home in Centralia. Daughter, Breanna was born in 1966, and son and namesake, Coe Johnson IV was born in 1968.
In 1958, at the age of 16, Coe began working for National Fruit Canning Corporation, now National Frozen Foods, dumping strawberries and skyrocketed to management becoming plant superintendent at age 25, and general manager by age 30, the position he held for 33 years. Coe believed the farmers and crops of Lewis County were the best in the state and remained dedicated to making the Chehalis plant number one. He led with love and an upbeat attitude that inspired loyalty and believed in promoting from within the company. He rewarded record-breaking production because he valued hard work as much as having fun on the job. Under his leadership, National reduced water waste by 75 percent, broke production records and built a state-of-the-art cold storage facility in the Chehalis Industrial Park. After 45 years with National, Coe retired in 2003. In retirement, Coe still drove by the fields of crops and monitored their growth the same way he did for 45 years.
All were welcome at the Johnson home and many considered Coe and Sharon second parents, especially Kelly Jensen. During the parties he hosted, Coe would often burst into song and dance to entertain the partygoers. Most likely, Coe would be singing Roy Orbison or “My Way” because he lived life his way.
Coe carried on his father and grandfather’s passion of hunting since he could first hold a rifle. Every place Coe would hunt, he would form a new hunting family making life-long bonds. Coe was always the center of all conversations around the nightly campfire where tales bigger than life were told. He was so proud to see his sons and grandchildren carry on his passion.
Everyone knew that Coe and Sharon’s home was a winter wonderland. Each year on Thanksgiving, Coe revealed his massive Christmas-light display. Their cul-de-sac filled nightly with vehicles slowing observe the holiday spectacle. With four Christmas trees and every inch of their house decorated, Coe and Sharon hosted legendary holiday parties for their large families filled with laughter and love. The evening ended with nieces and nephews gathered around Coe to listen to exaggerated tales of his youth. All were welcome at the Johnson home and many considered Coe and Sharon second parents.
In retirement, he took yearly trips to Hawaii and enjoyed weekly golf lunch dates with dear friends. Yet the greatest source of pride in his life were his five grandchildren. Coe was the grandpa that wrestled, sang songs, and gave lawn mower rides. He watched every sporting event and performance cheering loudest from the sidelines.
Coe is preceded in death by his parents, Dorothy and Coe Johnson II; sister, Judy Jackson; his brothers-in-law, Ron Hjelmstad, Gordon Young, Chet Keen and Dennis Duncan; and sister-in-law, Alice Hjelmstad.
He is survived by his sisters, Betsey (Leo) Volk and Dianne Young; and numerous beloved nieces and nephews. Coe also leaves behind Sharon, his wife of 56 years; children, Breanna (Josh) Whited and Coe Johnson IV; and cherished grandchildren, Mason, Rachel and Coe V Johnson and Quinton and Addison Whited.
A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 21, 2019, at the Great Wolf Lodge Convention Center, 20500 Old Highway 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531. Visitation prior to the service will be from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, July 19, 2019, at Sticklin Funeral Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to either the United Way of Lewis County, 450 NW Pacific Ave., Chehalis, WA 98532, or the charity of your choice.