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Gilroy
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January 18, 2020

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The Angel Among Us

In our youth-oriented culture, Eunice Coates is one of those elder adults that folks might overlook. On the surface, we might be tempted only to see the aging, retired Gilroy schoolteacher now in her eighties.But once she was a young woman traveling to Europe for the first time on a dream trip. Her father was an immigrant from Scotland, so she was thrilled to have the experience of touring the continent.Things didn’t work out quite as she expected. In fact, tragedy waited.One day, she and 35 other tourists, mostly American schoolteachers on vacation, were on a bus and journeying along a country road in Hergiswil, Switzerland, headed for Paris, The City of Lights. With them were a tour guide and his wife and the driver.Suddenly, a truck appeared out of nowhere, sideswiped the eight-ton bus along the edge of a steep embankment—with only a thin guard rail between the vehicle and a the dark, cold waters of a Swiss lake down below.Reeling from the impact, the bus toppled over the side and Eunice hastily prayed the only prayer she had time for:  "Dear Lord, help us!"  The bus plunged into Lake Lucerne on Aug. 2, 1961. "The water took me up near the ceiling," Eunice remembered. "When I came back down, it was up over my head and I had to hold my breath. “Then I felt something come on the bus and it was giving me the chills,” she recalled, as she described the feeling of knowing with certainty that an angel was among them.  he tried to get out through a window but to not avail. The water kept rising as the passengers and bus sank towards to bottom. She was about to try again when suddenly she felt a tremendous push and she was launched through a window like a cannonball, her movement so strong that, as she looked back, she could see her own wake.  “I felt something actually push me out. I can’t explain it, but I knew a greater power was helping me,” said Eunice, who was raised by a Baptist minister father.The next day, the coach was pulled from its resting place 210 feet below the surface of Lake Lucerne by a ship’s crane. Inside, divers found 15 bodies.  Another passenger died in the water. All those who perished were Americans; 14 were women. There were 22 survivors.Many years later, Eunice compared notes about the tragedy with a friend who also came close to drowning that day. They had never told each other exactly what they had experienced; each was afraid it would sound too ridiculous to the other.To her surprise, Eunice discovered that her friend had independently experienced the same exact feeling of the angel being on board, and she had heard the voice of the angel.The experience had a profound and life-long effect on Eunice. She went on to serve in her community in many ways, including as a schoolteacher for 31 years—23 of them in Gilroy at Glen View Elementary and Brownell.When I met Eunice, I was amazed at her knowledge of marine biology and how much she could make me see as we sat by the ocean. She knew so much about tide pools—about how small crabs camouflaged themselves in sand so that only the black dots of their eyes showed if you looked closely, about how much whales weigh, and about how to sit quietly to observe all the wildlife activity that you would miss otherwise.Although the things that gave her life meaning included being active for many years in local organizations such as Eastern Star, the California Retired Teachers Association, playing piano and organ, and singing in choirs, what has impressed me most has been her gift for visiting people. If anyone was ill, lonely, stuck in the hospital, recovering in rehab, or had no one to celebrate holidays with, Eunice was by his or her side.Driving the classic yellow 1960's Mustang that had been her husband’s until his death, she visited anyone who was suffering, and she didn’t just visit once. She went again and again. She visited some people so often, she became like part of the family.Maybe her empathy sprang not just from her faith, but also from her understanding of people as someone who married later in life and never had children of her own. Also, living so far from her family in Michigan, she understood the need to connect with people, and that we give strength to each other by how we care for one another.Now that she is recovering from a hip injury, it is heart-warming to see how her friends, neighbors and pastors look out for her. There are casserole dishes and salads on her doorstep and offers of help with grocery shopping. A neighbor across the street made sure she had her favorite vegetables and chicken for two weeks, “a perfect meal,” as Eunice put it. She is working on her exercises and is anxious to get back to her volunteer work at “Share the Bounty,” the free Wednesday meal at the Morgan Hill United Methodist Church where she helps feed those in need of a good, hot, nutritious meal. She also is hoping to support the St. Patrick's Dinner in Gilroy, which each year she coaxes others to attend with her, all to benefit low income families and the homeless.People such as Eunice are why I love living in our South Valley community; she is one of those angels who make our community “South Valley-Strong.”