Lifetime Achievement Honoree Bill Coate was born in Marion, Indiana, in 1940, but did not stay long in the heart of the Midwest. He graduated from Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Florida; from the Jet Aircraft Maintenance School (USAF) in 1960; from Pasadena College (Magna Cum Laude), B.A. in history in 1972; and from Fresno State (Summa Cum Laude), M.A. in history in 1984.
Although he was well educated in history, Bill didn’t start out in that discipline. At first, he worked for Safeway, and then he had the idea that he would become a minister. But his lively interest in history kept him returning to that course of study, and suddenly, there he was, a teacher and school administrator. He has taught history at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college levels. He came to Chowchilla in 1972 and has been a Madera County schoolman ever since. He and his family moved to Madera in 1985.
Because of his contributions to Madera, Coate is one of five people to be honored at the 14th annual Madera District Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Awards on Aug. 16 at Hatfield Hall. In Madera, his professional career branched out. It still included teaching, but demonstrating an enormous capacity for work, he added print journalism and broadcasting. He also is the author of six history books. One of those, “Shocking Secrets of American History,” has sold more than 180,000 copies through Barnes and Noble alone.
Bill considers the highlight of his professional career to have been the development of the Madera Method, a system of teaching English, reading, writing and critical thinking by involving students in historical research. For 40 years, students have been taught through the unique enterprise of “doing history,” and thereby have learned how to “transform the dead past of the living to the living past of the dead.” “As a result,” he says, “my students have come to recognize themselves as active participants in the drama of history.
One of the vehicles for accomplishing this has been the Madera Method Wagon Train, wherein we loaded our students on five mule-drawn covered and launched into wagon train treks that took us all over California for 15 years.”
Coate also has been an active citizen of the county where he lives. He served as a trustee on the Chowchilla Elementary School Board and the Madera County Board of Education. He is past president of the Madera County School Boards Association, past president of the Madera County Historical Society and the society’s historian for 12 years. In Chowchilla, he belonged to the Chowchilla LionsClub. In Madera, he belonged to the Sunrise Rotary Club. He was a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in Chowchilla and a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Madera.
He has remained active as a churchman, and at one point was a substitute preacher for one of Madera’s local congregations. Among his many honors, he received the American Spirit Honor Medal of the U.S. Air Force in 1960; California History Teacher of the Year in 1985; National History Teacher of the Year in 1986; California Teacher of the Year finalist in 1988; Disney American Teacher Award in 1999; featured in the national public service commercial, “The Power of Teaching;” featured in the Harvard University documentary, “Inside the Creative Classroom;” named Grand Marshal of the Madera South High School Homecoming Parade in 2015; and the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in Madera in 2018. He has written columns and covered education for The Madera Tribune for 22 years, and for 16 years, he was host of the KMPH weekly television series, “Twist in Time,” for which he broadcast historical vignettes of local history, always wearing his signature top-hat costume, which he also wore to dozens of public appearances as a speaker on history.
“The thing I like most about Madera,” said Coate, “is that when I come back here after being gone, it feels like I have come home. It is my hometown.” He said he was thrilled to be honored by the Chamber of Commerce for Lifetime Achievement. “Receiving this honor is so extraordinary,” he said. “Academic and professional recognition have their places. But when the community says to someone, as it does in this case, ‘Your life has counted here for something,’ it gives one an unbelievable sense of belonging. And belonging is something for which I yearn.”
Coate and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married 57 years. They have two children, Debbie and John, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He has four brothers and one sister, all living.