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Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

Former educator Coleman Jewett remembered as all-around Ann Arborite

By Amy Biolchini

Educator, athlete, artist and all-around Ann Arborite Coleman Jewett, 78, left behind a town full of memories after his death Wednesday:


Coleman Jewett in one of his Adirondack chairs at the Artisan Market.

Courtesy of Khadijah Kolleck

A seat at Washtenaw Dairy, where he could be found every morning; a stall at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market; his hand-made Adirondack chairs at two Ann Arbor YMCA camps and lasting impressions among his former students and faculty from Tappan Junior High School.

Jewett was a teacher and later assistant principal at then Tappan Junior High School from the 1960s to early 1990s. A fixture at the Farmers Market for 45 years, Jewett’s hand-crafted pine furniture - most notably his Adirondack chairs - was a top seller.

An Ann Arbor native, Jewett grew up attending the old Jones School in the building that is now Community High School. He’s a graduate of Eastern Michigan University.

Jewett’s family history is strong in Ann Arbor: His grandfather, George Jewett II, was the first black football player at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and in the Big 10. The family reportedly is the namesake of Jewett Avenue.


A picture of Coleman Jewett in a 1980-81 Tappan Junior High School yearbook.

Courtesy of Joe Durrance

As the assistant principal at Tappan Junior High School, Jewett’s office was where students would end up if they had disciplinary issues. His approach to dealing with troublemakers was unique, remembers colleague and former coach Rob Lillie.

“He could lay the law down but he could have you not feeling so bad about it,” Lillie said. “He just made everyone feel better.”

Jewett had a round table in his office that he had painted with Looney Tunes characters, and he would draw caricatures of himself, teachers and students that he posted in a display case outside his office. He drove a large economy van to school, which he also had painted with Looney Tunes.

The van, coupled with Jewett’s big afro and beard, made Jewett “kind of a hip guy,” said Dave Morris, a former student in the late 1970’s under Jewett’s administration at Tappan.

Jewett had broken up Morris’ first and only fistfight with another student in the hallway, and brought both boys to his office roundtable to talk it out over Blow Pops.

“He had this ability to make every kid fee like he mattered,” Morris said.

Morris is now the senior director of health and wellness at the Ann Arbor YMCA, where Jewett was an active member.


Photos of Coleman Jewett from the 1980-81 Tappan Junior High School yearbook.

Courtesy of Joe Durrance

As a young man, Jewett became involved with the Ann Arbor YMCA. He’s been an active member as the organization has moved through three different facilities in town, and organized weekly basketball games.

“It’s the kind of group that plays together with different ages. Coleman was just sort of the heart of it; the person that everyone revolved around,” said Cathi Duchon, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor YMCA. “Every day that we saw him, we just knew things were right.”

At the YMCA, Jewett volunteered to help establish some of the first programs for youth after school.

“He’s a treasure,” Duchon said.

Another former student of Jewett’s is Washtenaw Dairy co-owner Jim Smith. Smith said Jewett visited his store every morning to chat with the 10 to 20 regulars.

“He was down here pretty much every day as long as I can remember,” Smith said. “He’ll be really missed around here.”

Jewett’s presence was so regular at Washtenaw Dairy that Smith said he called Jewett’s wife, Maggie Jewett, to check in on him this week after he didn’t show up.

It was then Smith learned Jewett had a stroke Sunday. Jewett’s death left a hole in the regular crowd at the Dairy Thursday, Smith said.

“Today we were sitting there … and that’s usually where he sits,” Smith said, explaining how it didn’t feel the same without Jewett there. “He always sat in the same chair.”

Jewett’s nickname was “The Beaver,” or “Beave” likely because of his longtime woodworking passion. He started selling chairs, shelves and crates that he built at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in 1967. Jessica Black, now the facilities supervisor for Ann Arbor’s Department of Parks and Recreation, managed the Farmers Market between 2004 and 2007.

“(Jewett) would always say, ‘JB, I’ve got shirts older than you,’” Black recalled.

His demeanor, comic relief and smile were always something Black said she turned to when things at the market were overwhelming. A bench Jewett built still sits in the market office as a reminder of his presence.

Funeral arrangements for Jewett are pending.

Jewett also was a local historian, and the Ann Arbor District Library recorded the following interview with Jewett and other Ann Arbor townies in 2009:

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

The smiles, stories, high fives, and insights that Coleman shared with us as he watched our boys grow up through years of Saturday Farmer's Markets are gifts that we will always treasure. What a lovely, charismatic, caring, talented, generous, and centered man he was. We thank him for reaching out to us as well as to the countless others he touched with his compassionate spirit. I hope that spirit will live on in all of us who were blessed by his presence.

Dorian Hale

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 4:47 a.m.

Mr Jewett was a great person. He tought me how to work with wood at a young age. He also put together our first basketball team at Northside school. I remember his yellow "Thing One" car in the 70's and that big afro. He will be missed. I have known him all most all my life and I was glad my wife got to meet him when I bought a storage bench from him for my first born. Glad he took the time teach a poor kid from Arrow wood how to carve wood.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 1:56 a.m.

Worked on his vehicles for over 30 years and ALWAYS enjoyed seeing and talking to him. A great man!

Paula Gardner

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

Thank you to all of the commenters who supplemented this story with their own memories of Coleman Jewett. It's been sad over recent weeks to say good-bye to so many influential people in Ann Arbor; however, they're leaving our community a better place.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

I only knew Cole from daily noon basketball games at the YMCA. Even in the basketball gym he had his regular "spot". He was always the first one there, sitting on the hardwood right next to the entrance to the courts leaning up against the wall. He would always greet me with a smile when I walked in and would often ask where I've been and how I was doing if I hadn't played in a few days. He was such a calming and friendly presence in the basketball games, not to mention he could still knock down the open jumper with his old school set shot! I'll never forget how he would compliment me on my undoubtably ugly, and "flashy" colored basketball shoes. He asked me where I got them and when I told them where and how much I paid he said "I gotta get to Puffer Reds and get me a pair of those!" Cole just made you smile!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

I went to Tappan in the early 70's, Mr. Jewett was the person who made that school bearable. In the video he mentions a club-it was the "Hiking, Biking, and What Have You Club'. I was in that club. We didn't bike or hike but I remember it being a safe place to hang out and having our picture taken for the yearbook . I also remember his 'Kid of the Week' program. He'd pick a few of the less popular kids and give us a prize. He had such a knack for finding the 'non cool' kids and making us feel special. My award was a wooden smile with painted red lips and big white teeth that he made himself and I still have it. Thanks, Mr Jewett-you will be remembered and missed.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Adirondack chairs in Heaven now! Rest in peace, Coleman, we'll miss you.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

What a guy! The article and comments are another recent (and local) example of the indelible and lasting impact teachers have on our lives. Thanks to Coleman. He was a big music fan too, and that's where my connection to him existed. I'll be thinking about him when I listen to Bob Dylan today.

margaret Splittt

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

It was an honor to have known him.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

I didn't know Coleman Jewett from school, but I did know him from the Farmer's Market, and we have some of his bookcases and those awesomely comfortable chairs. We'd always chat when I went to the market. I'll miss him.

Geoff Larcom

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

The tributes here and all around social media for Coleman (Mr. Jewett to us old Tappan folks) underscore the tremendous impact engaged school administrators and teachers can have in a town such as Ann Arbor. And then to retire here and continue so many of those relationships in some form. So many friends, so many good conversations, so many connections, so many laughs ... the ultimate community man.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 1:51 a.m.

Geoff he was incredible, we can just hope we can have just a fractional positive effect on the community as he did.

Danielle Arndt

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

This is a beautiful story, Amy. I absolutely love the old yearbook photos.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

There is a small error here: "He had this ability to make every kid fee like he mattered," Fee should be feel. As for the article's content, thank you. He will be missed.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career in the late 1970's at Tappan with Coleman Jewett. I have never worked for a kinder, gentler man in my life. He was an administrator cut from a cloth we rarely see any more. He knew kids, he knew parents and he knew his staff. He encouraged the best from all of us and always with a smile. He helped me grow as a teacher and as a human being. I owe a lot to him in terms of the professional I have become. He has touched so many lives in so many positive ways. I was also lucky enough to work for his wife Maggie as well and she in turn is another administrator cut from that special cloth. My thoughts are with you Maggie and your family.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 10:10 a.m.

He was one of the good ones. One of those educators who simply liked all kids. My condolences to his family and friends. And, yes, I was a frequent presence in his office at Tappan. He listened. That helped me work some things out.

Geoff Larcom

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

Greetings, fellow Tappan Trojan. My days there (early 70s) were pretty wild.

Laura Cole

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 7:17 a.m.

SAVED BY MR. JEWETT: I was 11 years old. It was 1977 and I was a new kid to Tappan Elementary School. I was terrified that day because I didn't know anyone and everyone else seemed to already have friends. I had moved from another state and felt alone and insecure. On my first day at school, the bell rang to start first period. Having come from a school where bells were not used, I thought it was the fire alarm. Instinctively, I ran out into the hallway to find the long hallway unbearably empty, except for Mr. Jewett, who had his hands in his pocket and was whistling as he strolled down the hallway. He saw my fright and embarrassment, called me over to him and brought me into his office. He gave me lifesavers and asked me more about myself. Afterward, he walked me back to my classroom and made some excuse to the teacher and the class. I knew I had a friend for life. I'll never forget his kind, humorous and thoughtful generosity. A child would never suffer if Mr. Jewett was nearby. I'll never forget him. - Laura Cole (Spicer)... now age 47.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 1:49 a.m.

thanks for sharing that, he was a great guy!

Constance Colthorp Amrine

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 4:03 a.m.

I'm so sorry to hear this! This is too early for him. It feels unexpected. I will miss his friendly hello and his hilarious signs. My sympathies go out to his family. I'm so sorry for this loss.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:58 a.m.

Coleman Jewett begins speaking at about 36:00 in the video.

Dale R. Leslie

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 8:55 p.m. Ann Arbor area nostalgia


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:19 a.m.

The interview recorded by the Ann Arbor District Library is worth the time, a lot of local history. Does the library have other videos? How does one access them?

Dale R. Leslie

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

My web site has some Ann Arbor nostalgia and a menu from which to choose. Dale R. Leslie


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:09 a.m.

I had the good fortune of knowing Coleman since I was 5 when my Dad was his BB coach at EMU with greats like his longtime friend Webster Kirksey--some 55+ years ago. I went to Tappan, played against Coleman in the Over 30 (he and Kirksey were well over 30) BB league in AA & visited with him often at the Farmers Market. I will miss him greatly--Ann Arbor has not produced a finer person, a finer gentleman nor anyone who has impacted Ann Arbor & those he touched more positively than Coleman. A street right by the Farmers Market needs to be renamed Coleman Ave!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 1:47 a.m.

I agree it would make sense that something associated with the market be named for Coleman!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:34 a.m.

Mr. Jewett was a mentor to when I attended Bach elementary school as early as Kindergarten. I own (2) of his original "Large African Masks." My mother and I were friends with his family and My heart is saddened... Mr. Jewett is now with the "Ultimate Carpenter" and they are whittling away...Peace be with the family and Rest In Peace my friend!

Debra W.

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:14 a.m.

As a new teacher I was fortunate to have Coleman as my first Assistant Principal. His support, guidance, and genuine care encouraged students and staff to do their best. Early in my first year I brought my 3-year old son to Tappan for a visit. Coleman happened to be in the hallway, where he immediately welcomed my son as if he was a superstar. He just knew how to make people feel like a million bucks. It's that feeling that I'll miss when visiting the Farmer's Market.

J. A. Pieper

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:20 a.m.

A true loss for our community, my heart is with you, Maggie.

Janna Field

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

I have know Coleman since 1980. I was a school bus driver for A2 schools; we loved Coleman. When he retired he got on our dispatch radio and read us a poem that he wrote just for the bus drivers. I retired as a bus driver in 1993 and started my own business. I started Fieldfarms and sell at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. I was so delighted to be able to connect with Coleman again. Every Saturday morning he would bring in donuts from Washtenaw Dairy and we would sit around waiting for our stall assignments. He would tell the funniest jokes...what a kind, gentle man he was. I will miss him...

T Wall

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

Coleman was a caring, loving person. I had just spoken with Coleman before Christmas at Washtenaw Dairy. Our fathers worked together at the Ann Arbor Post Office and played on the Post Office softball team that won the State Championship in the late 40's. Coleman's dad was a great photographer who did my parent's wedding pictures. When I saw him at the Dairy I mentioned to Coleman that his dad took a photo of my mom's Nativity scene that almost looked real. I said I was going to make a copy of it for him. I few years ago I attended an EMU basketball game to honor Coleman being inducted into the EMU Basketball Hall of Fame. This was a special day because when I was younger my dad told me that Coleman played sports at Pioneer HS and was overlooked by colleges because of his race. He calmly watched other athletes get scholarships and yet Coleman never complained or got angry. This was a topic he did not want to talk about. I always thought of him as the Jackie Robinson of Ann Arbor. A few years ago I purchased some Adirondack chairs at the market and felt honored when I asked him to autographed the bottom of my chairs. I will miss my short conversations with Coleman. I know he is in heaven playing basketball with all the great ones that have gone before him