Centenarian Wilma Coke — beloved retired school bus driver — memorialized Saturday, March 13, at 10:30 a.m. outside church and via Zoom

3 13 21 Wilma Coke

Wilma Areta Coke

Centenarian Wilma Areta Coke is being remembered in a memorial service today, March 13, which started at 10:30 a.m. outside the Ojai United Methodist Church (120 Church Road), and there wil be a Zoom memorial for her at the same time.

 Meeting ID: 830 2677 8744

Passcode: 148470

The beloved retired school bus driver was feted with a parade, including school buses, outside her home to celebrate her 100th birthday on Feb. 21.

She was born Feb. 5, 1921, and passed peacefully at home in Ojai just 16 days after her surprise parade.

Her family wrote: "We would like to thank the community for honoring her with a parade in front of her house to celebrate her milestone. She was grateful and surprised!

"She is remembered by the fellowship of the United Methodist church as a founding member who always had a smile and a positive attitude.  She was preceded in death by her husband, Merle Coke, and their three beloved sons, Gary, Larry and Dale Coke. She is survived by her eldest beloved son, Merle Coke Jr., and three generations of  grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grand children. She will be missed in the community she lived in for 69 years. She was a retired Ojai Unified School District bus driver and volunteered with the HELP of Ojai."

The Ojai Valley News featured the popular centenarian in a January article. The article can be read online in following link and is copied below:

 3 13 21 WILMA article



Former Ojai school bus driver puts 100 years on life's odometer 

 February article about Wilma Coke's 100th birthday in January 2021 edition of the Ojai Valley News:

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

Meiners Oaks resident Wilma Coke will celebrate her 100th birthday Feb. 5.

“I’m going to make it, I hope,” the soon-to-be centenarian told the Ojai Valley News Jan. 26. “But I’m not there yet.”

Wilma’s granddaughter, Crystal Coke of Meiners Oaks, has no doubt the former Ojai school bus driver will make it to 100, given her approach to life. “She’s definitely fierce. She just takes on anything and has a positive attitude about it,” Crystal said.

Born in 1921 to a farming family, Wilma and her two sisters were raised in Horton, Kansas, in the northeastern part of the state.

After graduating from Horton High School in the 1940s, she came to Los Angeles to marry Merle Coke, her high school sweetheart. “My grandfather had already come out here,” said Crystal.

But when she got here, Merle was a no-show at the train station. His vehicle had broken down on the way to pick her up. “She had to wait hours and hours for him to get there. She was in tears, thinking he wasn’t coming,” said Crystal.

web provided Merle and Wilma Coke 1974 

Photo provided

Merle and Wilma Coke in 1974.


While living in Inglewood, the Cokes had two sons, Merle, Jr. and Gary.

Soon after the boys’ arrival, Merle was sent to Florida, before shipping off for Germany during World War II.

Wilma once drove an old car cross-country so she and the kids could see him before he left for overseas. “She did it all by herself, with babies in tow, camping by the side of the road,” said Crystal.

After the war, in 1954, the Cokes moved to Ojai. “They moved here because they wanted to be back in the country,” Crystal said. “They really liked the quietness and the country feel out here.”

At first, the couple settled in Mira Monte, but after a few years they moved to Meiners Oaks and had two more sons, Larry (Crystal’s father) and Dale.

Merle found work in Ojai as a window installer, and for years worked for the gas company, from which he ultimately retired.

Wilma worked for an auctioneer before getting hired to drive the Ojai school bus, on a route that included the Dennison Grade. “When I was a little kid, I used to wave to her when she’d bring the elementary school kids home,” said Crystal, who remembers her grandmother always being busy with one project or another.

“For years, she volunteered with HELP of Ojai, driving the seniors around to their appointments,” she said.

Merle and Wilma celebrated 70 years together, before he passed away in 2012 at the age of 92.

Up until last March, Wilma was still driving herself to the Ojai United Methodist Church, where she and Merle were among the founding parishioners and helped build the church, Crystal said.

Nowadays, Wilma plays solitaire on the computer, “and she loves to read the newspaper front to back,” Crystal said.

But COVID-19 has meant a loss of independence that Wilma greatly misses, according to Crystal. “This last year has been really hard on her, like anybody else, not being able to get out and have her routine. That’s been the hardest thing for her,” she said.

And though she may not be able to celebrate her 100th birthday with her nine grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, there will be cake (cheesecake, Wilma’s favorite) and ice cream from a friend’s ice cream truck.

What’s Wilma’s secret to a long life? “I don’t know,” she said. “Just living.”





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