Jessie Belle Coffee, 1893–1987
Jessie Belle Coffee was born 17 April 1893, in St. Ferdinand, St Louis County, Missouri. She was the third of five children born to Daniel H. Coffee and his wife, Anna Jane Martin. After the Civil War, Daniel’s family had come to Missouri from Kentucky and Anna’s from Tennessee. All of the family members were farmers at that time and everyone labored to make ends meet. Their sister, Bertha, died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven in 1914 and their only brother, John, was struck and killed by lightning in 1919 at the age of seventeen. The remaining three sisters, Tillie, Addie, and Jessie were lifelong companions.
Jessie was almost eighteen when she married Joseph Anton “Tony” Webb, age twenty-one. The couple was listed as farmers in the 1920 federal census, living on Missouri River Bottom Road with daughter, Loraine, age seven, and son, Bob, age four. Jessie’s younger sister, Tillie, and her family were neighbors on one side and her parents, Dan and Anny Coffee, lived on the other.
It was during the early 1920s that Jessie’s father decided to try mining in Bethalto and the family went along to help him make a go of it. The mine was successful until accidents involving employees and lawsuits resulted in bankruptcy, and the family returned to Creve Coeur. In 1923, Tillie’s husband died and, in 1927, Jessie’s husband, Tony, was killed in an accident while saving his livestock from a flood along the Missouri River.
Jessie moved her family to Wellston to insure her children were well-raised and educated. She and Loraine worked at a dime-store in the area where Loraine met Bill Finnegan. In 1930, Loraine and Bill married and began their family of five children. Bob graduated from Normandy High School and was employed and living with Jessie when World War II erupted. He joined the service and he married Faye Mueller. The couple settled in California to raise their two sons. Jessie never remarried but remained a companion to her old friend, Claire Johnson.
Jessie Coffee Webb
Photo in the collection of Cindy Finnegan
Used with permission
Resourceful and strong-willed, she labored as a cashier, a cook, and a rooming house operator for a number of years. She retired from her position in the cafeteria at St. Louis’s General Motors plant and continued to supplement her income by facilitating wagering in various sports. She was frugal and would scold a person for not picking up a penny from the ground as “enough pennies found make a dollar.” It was this thinking that enabled her to assist her family over the years with the promise that a loan would be repaid.
Jessie passed away on 14 August 1987, at the age of ninety-four and was survived by her daughter, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. Her family still holds fond memories of gatherings at her apartment on Union, of being encouraged to take some of the old, hard candy from the dish on her table, and the Flintstone glass she used for her nightly “sleeping medicine.” She is well remembered as a woman who loved and persevered.
Written by Cindy Finnegan
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Last Modified: 15-Nov-2019 10:26