Putting people and praise first
Councilman Coley’s passion for helping others and gospel singing
Joe helps lead a singing during a cultural event in Poteau.
Choctaw Nation’s Tribal Council is a distinguished group of gentlemen, sense of humor only outmatched by their love for the Choctaw people. Within this lively squad, one will find Joe Coley who speaks quietly, but advocates strongly for his people and his faith.
Coley is councilman for District 6 – Latimer County. He became councilman in 2004 and is now the group’s chaplain, opening each tribal council meeting with a prayer.
Coley was born at his home on Cravens Road, south of Red Oak, to Ranes M. “Rufus” Coley and Lela (Yota) Coley, in the early 1950s. The seventh child of his parents’ eight children, Coley was the youngest boy.
He spent his younger days learning to swim in Spring Creek Lake and attending school at Cravens, Ludi, Panola and eventually graduating from Red Oak High School. There was lots of fast pitch softball playing and fishing, Coley stated as he recalled his adolescence.
As Coley grew into adulthood, two passions emerged in his life – his faith in Christ and serving people. The former is exemplified through his great amount of work in many churches throughout Southeast Oklahoma, with a particular emphasis in gospel singing. The latter is demonstrated in his decades of service working for the Community Health Representatives (CHR) and later as a councilman.
Though Coley speaks softly, he sings loud and proud as he travels to a multitude of churches for his favorite past time, gospel singing. “We have a good time,” Coley said with a smile as he began to speak about the singings.
Coley has been to many different places and several states singing with a handful of quartets. He enjoys group singing at local churches, mentioning that sometimes there are more than 20 groups at a single singing and the event lasts late into the night, until midnight or 1 a.m. “We just have a good time praising God through song,” he stated.
Currently, he attends Cedar Baptist where gospel singings are a regular occurrence. He is also a well-known face within other church groups, as he emcees singings and hosts revivals often. Coley attributes his interest in song to his father, Rufus, who taught him to read shape notes early in life.
When he isn’t singing songs of praise with his church group, Coley is lending a helping hand. In the early ’80s he began his work for Choctaw Nation’s CHRs driving patients to appointments at various tribal facilities.
During this time he was able to learn more about the needs of the Choctaw people. He was trained as a first responder and was able to assist patients in many ways other than just the transportation. “I really enjoyed that work,” said Coley.
For a brief time in the mid-’80s, Coley worked for the hospital in Talihina, fulfilling similar duties. Once the Choctaw Nation gained sovereignty in the mid ’80s, he returned to his occupation with the CHRs.
After decades of service in this field, he was encouraged by those close to him to run for his position as a tribal councilman. This idea was appealing to Coley in particular because he had spent ample amounts of time with tribal members, discovering their personal needs. Becoming a councilman offered Coley a chance to help in ways that he had previously been unable.
“I had to really pray about it,” stated Coley as he spoke about his consideration for the position. He knew he had the support of family and many friends, but deliberated if the decision was right for him. As he considered his options, he recalled the needs of tribal members that he had encountered during his service with the CHRs and considered the extra influence he would have to work on their behalf.
Upon being elected councilman in 2004, Coley made sure to keep the same goal he had while running for this position – to be a reliable avenue of assistance to those who needed him. Coley mentions that whenever he considers a council bill, he studies all the outcomes for tribal members, making sure it is in the best interest for Choctaws.
Victories as a councilman stand out in Coley’s memory. Assisting the town of Quinton with the paving of their streets and gym parking lot was one of the many shining moments in Coley’s career.
He is also proud to say he aided the town of Red Oak during a time when their water supply was in trouble. A pump had malfunctioned, stopping water from being delivered to residents. As a councilman, Coley was able to provide bottled water during the shortage, and later, made sure a replacement pump was installed quickly.
He looks back on these successful moments, among others, with fondness. “I love my job and helping people. There is no better job that I know of,” he said modestly as he discussed his dedication.
Coley also mentioned that he feels fortunate to be working with the other members of the council. “I couldn’t ask for a better group,” he stated as he talked about the camaraderie that has been built over the years.
If one were to travel to Wilburton and attend a function hosted by Coley, they would most likely meet his wife, Mary, a cheerful and up-beat counterpart to Coley’s reserved demeanor.
Joe met Mary in church as kids and the two were married in 1972. Together, they raised three children – Roger, Diana and Heather – all of whom they are exceptionally proud. “They were real good kids,” Joe said with a grin.
Outside of the tribal council and the gospel circuit, Coley is involved in several organizations, including Ki Bois, Keddo and Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. He is also a Sunday school superintendent, song leader and trustee of his church, Cedar Baptist.