Life Story Funeral Homes®
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Life Story Funeral Homes®
The exclusive providers of the Life Story Experience

John Henry Coats

February 8, 2024
Kalamazoo, MI




John Henry Coats of Kalamazoo, MI., passed away on February 8, 2024, at the age of 93 surrounded by family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is survived by son John Christopher (Michael Hand), daughter Heather (Jason) Zerban, grandson Ethan (Grace) Dunlop, granddaughter Abby Dunlop, and sister Jane (Coats) Nichols, as well as many extended family members. He was preceded in death by wife Helen, son Brian, daughter Amy, brother Lowell, and sisters Lillis (Coats) Hunter and Ruth (Coats) Evans.

John was born April 16, 1930, in Templeton, Indiana to Ezra and Nellie (Kerr) Coats. He started taking piano lessons at age 10 and showed a profound interest in music which played an important and enduring role for the rest of his life. John graduated from Otterbein High School in 1948. After high school, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952 from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a major in Biological Sciences. In 1953 he was accepted as a graduate student studying Mycology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Later that year John was drafted into the army and served 2 years in Korea as a member of the 11th Evac hospital (part of the 8th Army) outside of Seoul. While in Korea he toured with a vocal quartet and played organ for protestant church services. Towards the end of his tour of duty, John was promoted to Corporal/Specialist 3rd class. In addition to performing with the vocal quartet, he toured with the 8th Army Chapel Choir in Korea and Japan.

After Korea, John rejoined his graduate program at Purdue and received his Master of Science degree (Biology) in 1956. While moonlighting as a Lab Technician at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana he met his future wife Helen Miller. They became engaged in January 1957 and married on August 25, 1957 in Kendallville, Indiana.

After obtaining his master's degree, John pursued advanced studies in Microbiology and received his PHD degree in the spring of 1959. After graduating he accepted a job as a Research Scientist with the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In 1965, John took a 1-year sabbatical at the University of Washington in Seattle. Upon his return, he researched Streptomyces's genetics. He subsequently published a well-received paper about Streptomyces in the Journal of Bacteriology which established him as an expert in the emerging field of genetics research. He was invited to speak at symposia around the world including Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Poland. In 1977 he was chosen to visit Russia and Armenia with 7 other American scientists as part of a government exchange program.

John retired from Upjohn in April of 1990 after working there for 30 years. Retirement allowed him more time to get involved in community service and travel with Helen. They toured the world together and he made it a priority to learn the language beforehand. He also had a love for genealogy, woodworking and gardening. His roses and garden at the house on Old Colony Road in Kalamazoo he and Helen lived in for 55 years were his pride and joy. In addition to his community service and various hobbies, he was very active in Westminster Presbyterian church where he was choir director for 25 years.

A memorial and celebration of life will be held on Saturday, February 17th at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1515 Helen Avenue in Portage, Michigan. Visitation will be at 10:00 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 11:00 a.m. A reception will follow in the church fellowship hall. In lieu of flowers, donations in John's memory can be made to The Arc Community Advocates or Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portage, Michigan.