By Jonni Joyce
Have you ever hit a mountain lion with your car? Me neither. But Karen Coyle did.
It was one of many great adventures and stories she can tell about her years with Bennett County School District.
She was commuting to and from work fifty five miles one way. One day the bumper of her car took out the rear end of an unlucky mountain lion dashing across the road near the Niobrara River.
She loved her job so much that when she and her husband Bob were living on a ranch in Nebraska, she drove to Martin to work for the school district. She would put in a full days work and then drive back to the ranch.
“I hit one deer, one mountain lion and ended up only once in the ditch,” said Coyle.
That was back when cell phones were in big black bags and you were lucky if they didn’t end up in the floorboard when you slammed on the brakes.
“They were the best,” said Coyle referring to the bag phones.
Now Karen’s cell phone fits in her pocket. One of the many changes and challenges that she has faced over the last 33 years in the administration offices of our local school district - adjusting to the changes in technology over the years.
“Do you remember those tractor fed printers?” she asked as she laughed about where she started and where she was now dealing with technology.
The daughter of George Farley who moved to Bennett County in 1946 and Elsie Jackson Farley, who moved to Bennett County in 1931, Karen Ann Farley was born at Saint Anthony’s hospital in Martin.
She graduated from Bennett County High School in the early 1970’s. She attended college at Chadron State University and after graduating she got married and worked for the hospital.
Bob and Karen had children over the next few years and by the late 70’s she was working for Dr. Knecht at his medical clinic in what used to be the Community Action building in Martin.
During the 80’s, Coyle drove a school bus and was a stay at home mom.
Coyle was a volunteer with the Bennett County Activities Association and active in the fair, rodeo, and 4-H.
“We were part of the Bennett County High School Rodeo Club when the kids were in,” said Coyle.
Working with the kids and being involved in 4-H was some of her happiest times.
It was in 1991 when she was hired as an Administrative Assistant in the business office working her way up to the position of co-business manager.
It was between 1998 and 2012 that Bob worked on a ranch in Nebraska causing those long hours commuting and running into deer and mountain lion.
“I loved my job,” said Coyle. “I didn’t want to be the hired man,” she said jokingly.
There’s one day on the commute she will never forget. It was September 11, 2001. She heard the news on the radio.
The business office was in the basement of the Legion. Students from the academy came in and together the students and staff watched the news coverage on the television.
“It was awful,” said Coyle, the emotion still raw in her voice. “It was September and we were cutting square bales on the ranch. There were no planes. It was erie.”
Coyle described the contrails that normally crisscrossed across the sky above the ranch. They were noticeably missing, a result of the FAA ground stop that lasted for several days.
In 2012, they bought acreage here in Bennett County.
“We live right off the highway,” Coyle said. “No way was I living on dirty, muddy roads again.”
When you talk with her, you’d never know she was getting ready to retire.
Coyle explains in-depth her job managing Impact Aid for the school district. Her delivery is passionate and informative. The passion for her work runs deep.
“I have mixed feelings,” Coyle admits about her impending retirement.
Her work took her and her family to New York City where they visited the 9-11 Memorial at the site of the Twin Towers.
“Everyone needs to see that,” said Coyle.
It was networking and conferences, bringing back new ideas to help the school district that also allowed her to travel and experience New York and Washington, D.C.
As mature people often do, we reminisced about the younger generation and the apathy and lack of work ethic and the good old days when we’d step in and get the job done.
“When you’re short handed you have to pitch in and help,” said Coyle.
That’s one of the changes she’s seen over the years, a different work ethic and more apathy. But she’s really happy with the new hire, Chante Cook, and thinks she’ll do a great job.
“They are always changing something. Roll with the punches and take it one day at a time,” said Coyle giving a last piece of advice.
Retirement is going to be a change that Coyle will have to adjust to.
“I’m going to miss my co-worker, Jolene Robinson, and getting up everyday and coming to work” said Coyle.
Coyle sang the praises of her co-workers and the various Superintendents she had worked with.
“They were all super phenomenal,” said Coyle.
Coyle plans on traveling to Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Pendleton Roundup, visiting grand kids, and having more time to ride and spend time with her Corgi dogs.
She did admit, however, that her granddaughter’s Basset Hound was the cutest dog she had ever seen.
Finally, she will have time to garden, rake some hay, and work with her flowers and in the yard.
“I’ll probably become the limo driver for Bob,” Coyle said.
If you were wondering what car took out the mountain lion, it was a Pontiac.
How many of us would drive fifty-five miles one-way to work an eight hour day and then drive back home?
Karen Coyle did because she loved the job, the people she worked with, and the community.
“The hardest thing will be turning in my keys,” said Coyle with those mixed feeling welling up in her eyes.
Karen Coyle retires at the end of June and will be truly missed.