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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Tiny Lady, Giant Spirit

March 8, 2009

Shirley Coyner Gives Nursing, Travel, Missions Her All

Shirley Stevens Coyner has possibly had the longest "temporary" job in history. She started work at Phillips Petroleum Co. in Bartlesville 56 years ago. Her employer is now ConocoPhillips, but she still works in the same place today. The consistent role doesn't equate to the lack of an adventurous spirit for this petite Oklahoma Baptist University alumna. Along with working as an occupational health nurse, Coyner is a licensed pilot and a globetrotting tourist and volunteer.

A Bartlesville native since birth, Coyner never planned to have a connection to Bison Hill. But in 1946, through the influence of an Army chaplain, she decided to give OBU a try. She claims attending OBU was life-changing despite her relatively short tenure at the Baptist institution.

"At the time, OBU didn't have a nursing school," Coyner explained. "Now it has the best one in the state - maybe the best one anywhere."

After two years in Shawnee, she transferred to the University of Oklahoma to complete her nursing degree. OBU's School of Nursing was launched in the fall of 1952, with the first class of graduates in 1956.

"It was good I went to OBU because I was very immature, and very shy, and very introverted," Coyner said. "I know if I had not gone to OBU first, I would not have succeeded in nursing school."

Coyner recalls the influence of Dr. J.A. Trent, her professor in biology and science. Not only was he "a really nice person," she said, but also, "he was a Christian man, and he knew I wanted to go into nursing, and he helped me get into the (OU) school of nursing."

After completing nursing school in 1951, Coyner returned to OBU as a campus nurse, working alongside Mary Alice Arrington in 1951 and 1952. She said she encountered many students with homesickness in addition to the usual colds, stomach problems and the occasional injury.

'Temporary' career

Coyner made her way back to Bartlesville, where she assumed a position at Phillips Petroleum. For 50 years, while the company's headquarters were in Bartlesville, Coyner's department handled almost all of Phillips' medically related issues. Even today, with the ConocoPhillips headquarters in Houston, Coyner said many people return to Bartlesville for heath-related care.

As an occupational health nurse, Coyner is responsible for working with the company's employees who travel and work overseas. She provides basic physical exams, checks blood pressure, draws blood, and gives immunizations based on the destinations of the overseas travelers.

In 1955, Coyner met her husband, the late Herbert N. Coyner, who worked in research at Phillips. The couple married in 1956, sharing the same employer for their entire careers.

Mr. Coyner took flying lessons, and enjoyed taking his bride on trips in a small plane. Mrs. Coyner, however, did not like the way the plane tipped and moved. Her husband encouraged her to become a pilot herself so she could better understand the plane's movements. Propped up with pillows to support her tiny frame - she's less than five feet tall - Coyner earned her pilot's license and grew to love flying.

"I really enjoy it," she said. "It is fun to look down on the ground and see some of God's amazing creation."

Following her husband's death, Coyner was unable to move the couple's small airplane into and out of the hangar, so she realized she needed to sell the aircraft. But she has found other outlets for adventure.

Giving back

Not only did OBU provide life experience for the young woman; it also provided a solid foundation for Christian friendships Coyner has maintained to this day. Many of the friendships she fostered were with people planning to serve on overseas mission fields. She has visited several former OBU classmates at their outposts as Southern Baptist missionaries, including George and Beth (Schreiber) Wilson in Hong Kong, and Orby and Betty (Luellen) Butcher and Bob and Jeannie (Butler) Spear in Thailand, among others.

Coyner also developed a strong heart for missions. Locally, she serves as director of Woman's Missionary Union at her church, Trinity Baptist in Bartlesville. Regionally, she participated in the construction of "quillows," quilts that fold into a pocket on the side. Her church made about 80 quillows for the children's home in Owasso. Internationally, she has served on a mission trip to Venezuela, where she used her nursing skills to weigh babies, take blood pressures and perform other simple tests.

She also participates in the national Baptist Nursing Fellowship and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses. The groups meet for fellowship, and the Baptist Nursing Fellowship hosts missionary speakers and provides opportunities for practitioners to earn continuing education credits.

"It's really interesting to hear what's going on in world missions, and here in the United States, and to learn how we can be a part of it," Coyner said.

Coyner also noted lifelong friend Charlotte Velau Willis, who she met as a student.

"She was and is a very fine Christian person, and she has been a big help to me," Coyner said.

Coyner likes to get back to Bison Hill often. She enjoys the continued company of and correspondence with classmates. And she remains thankful for the way people influenced her during her few years as an OBU student.

"I hate to think where I would be and what I would be doing if I hadn't gone to OBU," she said.

Her "temporary" job has made a difference in people's lives for 56 years. Her brief time as a student on Bison Hill has made a lasting difference in her life for more than six decades.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.