MC COY, Jennifer Reiko Watanabe Young
We are sorry to announce the loss of Jeney McCoy at 88, a Santa Barbara inspiration who, in addition to helping her late husband Jim McCoy grow McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams into the famous local brand that it is, has been active in civic causes and influenced three generations. with his contagious spirit and energy.
Jeney was quite the character, truly a one of a kind personality, full of boundless good energy, generous to the fault, fun to be around, a devoted friend and wife, mother, grandmother and great -Grandmother. There have been four great chapters in his long life.
CHAPTER ONE – THE FARM
Jennifer was born in Great Neck, Long Island, New York in 1934. Her mother Eleanor Blanchard was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, and grew up in Melbourne. Eleanor was one of five Blanchard sisters born to an English-born ship’s captain; Jennifer’s great-grandfather helped settle in Christchurch, New Zealand. Jennifer’s father was Hideo Watanabe, a half-Japanese merchant who imported silk and was interned in an American concentration camp in New York during World War II. Hideo had a Japanese father and a British mother, unusual for the late 1800s.
Jennifer’s earliest memories were of living at “The Farm” in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a bucolic pastoral estate that was owned by her aunt Dorothy and “Uncle Oscar,” lyricist and Broadway legend Oscar Hammerstein II. Jennifer attended area boarding schools (Baldwin Elementary and George School) where she grew into a beautiful, long-limbed, tanned young woman who competed on the tennis and swim teams, as well as starred in school productions.
At 19, after the tragic death of her father, Jennifer began traveling through Western Europe with her mother and alone, sparking a love for travel that has never faded. When Jennifer finally returned to the United States, she enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She never did very well early in the morning, and so it was no surprise that during an early morning religion class, Jennifer fell asleep slowly during the lecture. His beautiful dancing head was noticed by a handsome young man in a crew cut who had just returned from the Marines, Richard Young. Jennifer left behind a surprise treasure trove of old love letters Richard wrote her around this time, around 1954.
CHAPTER TWO – RAISING 4 BOYS IN LOS ANGELES
Richard and Jennifer fell in love, married, and had the first of four sons, Kevin, in 1957. After earning his doctorate from Columbia University, Richard asked Jennifer which coast she wanted to live on. Jennifer chose the West Coast, and so Richard took a job at UCLA medical school, starting as an assistant professor. During Richard’s post-doctoral fellowship in Europe, which included stops in Italy, France and Sweden, and which, of course, Jennifer was more than happy to encourage, his son Mike was born (in Bari, Italy ). Upon their return to Los Angeles, sons Jimmy and Andy soon followed.
Those 15 years in Los Angeles were when Jennifer truly fulfilled her childhood dream of “being a mom,” raising four rambunctious, determined boys. It was between 1960 and 1975 and Jennifer was between 25 and 40 years old. During that time, Jennifer cooked over 7,000 lunches, as well as countless breakfasts and dinners, laundry, dishes, cleaning, and then of course driving…driving to children’s sporting events (she was the mother in the stands whose screaming cheers she made sure could be heard in deep right field), leading to lessons, and perhaps most excitingly to movie sets. Jennifer drove her boys all over Los Angeles to earn extra money in commercials, TV shows and movies.
No surprise, Jennifer’s energy was up to the task – and more! She had a hands-off, confident parenting style that gave her four boys self-confidence and a sense of adventure.
During these years, Jennifer also refused to be bored and was known to be a contestant on game shows where she won furniture, appliances and thousands of dollars. She also worked at the ticket office at the Santa Monica Ice Rink so her boys could get free admission and cheap lessons. But as those who knew her know all too well, Jennifer also loved selling. Besides the assortment of tiered marketing items (including bras), Jennifer also sold imported gourmet foods which led her to attend many food conventions.
CHAPTER THREE – SANTA BARBARA
In the mid-1970s, Jennifer changed her name to Jeney for “numerological reasons”, believing it would change her fate. Maybe she was right, because soon after, through a rather fortuitous location at a booth, Jeney met the second great love of her life, gregarious Santa Barbara James O. McCoy. Big Jim was the purveyor of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams of Santa Barbara, a local legend. Soon a new 40-year life began for Jeney and Jim in Santa Barbara, merging Jim’s family of daughter Monika and son Robert with Jeney and his four sons. Somehow they made it work.
Jokingly, she ‘had to change models to have the girl’, then 43-year-old Jeney and Jim welcomed baby Jeni Reiko McCoy in 1977. The combined family moved into a Spanish-style house with a swimming pool on Santa Barbara’s Upper East Side which, unsurprisingly, hosted many parties, some of which Jim and Jeney were even aware of. It was an open, friendly house where all the kids could and did bring their friends (and their friends’ friends) to swim or just hang out.
The decade that followed was a high-energy frenzy that Jeney not only coveted but in part created by instilling his own sense of controlled chaos every day. The house became a social magnet for family and friends, a place where Jeney and Jim could host Super Bowl, French-speaking, and Thanksgiving parties. When her boys moved out, Jeney filled her home with Swiss or French au pairs, local and international guests and friends who had spent a lifetime of work.
Unsurprisingly, Jeney and Jim were also active around town, spending quality time at the University Club, Montecito Country Club, and Yacht Club. Jeney was captain of the Montecito Country Club women’s tennis team that competed against the club’s other teams – which, victory or loss, always seemed to end in a lunch party. On the civic side, Jim and Jeney volunteered for planning the Fiesta, with Jim serving as El Presidente in 1993 and Jeney serving as the Fiesta Primera Donna. Both Jim and Jeney were very generous and well known in town for their support of local charities, and their gifts of “wooden nickels” (good for a free scoop at McConnell’s) were forever circulating around town. For many years Jeney and Jim hosted the annual Elegant Evening at the Montecito Country Club which attracted hundreds of dance enthusiasts each year.
CHAPTER FOUR – THE FINAL CHAPTER
Jeney’s flamboyant life and radiant personality brought smiles and joy to all who had the privilege of knowing her. But she was not without her own personal tragedies. Jeney’s stepson, Robert McCoy, died in 1980 at age 19. His daughter Jeni Reiko McCoy died in 2012 at age 34. And shortly after selling McConnell’s Ice Cream, Jeney’s love, Big Jim McCoy died in 2013. After Jim’s death, Jeney was able to do some traveling with his children and visiting relatives in the South Pacific. , but as his health declined, so did the extent of his world. The onset of Covid, with its restrictions on travel and visitation, was not a welcome addition to Jeney’s later years.
Nevertheless, the last months of Jeney’s life were truly a blessing, both for her and for those who loved her. Jeney was able to spend quality time with all of her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. She was able to look through old love letters, old photographs and old films of her life and the lives of her family, remembering the positive impact she had on so many others and the love that she was able to share and receive from so many people.
Jeney passed away peacefully in her sleep on the night of July 21. She was in her bed, in her home, surrounded by her beloved cats, with her family nearby and without hospice or other medical intrusion. Characteristically, she passed away with a smile on her face, probably dreaming of her days on the farm. Following Jeney are his four sons, Kevin (wife Berni), Mike (wife Debbie), Jimmy (wife Tracy) and Andy (wife Kate), daughter-in-law Monika (husband Russell), eight grandchildren ( Kimberly, Amber, Christopher, Scott, Jackson, Grayson, Bridget and Lindsey), two great-grandsons (Samuel and Max) and cousins Katy and Paul Jacobson, Kiaora Fox and Osiris, Isaiah and Ajala.
A bright light went out with Jeney, and those she left behind will mourn the loss for some time. But Jeney wouldn’t want it that way. If she could have that last wish, it would be that everyone she’s had the privilege of touching in some way wouldn’t mourn, but instead turn on strobe lights, and dance…preferably for
Green River of the CCR.