Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Luis Coca, dedicated Salvation Army volunteer

Even in retirement, volunteer keeps saying ‘yes’

Added on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nearly every town has one, some maybe two or three, that guy who for the life of him can’t say “no.”

“I need to say ‘no’ more often,” laughed Luis Coca. “When people ask, I just say ‘yes.’”

Twice retired, from the military and the state of North Dakota, Coca’s list of accomplishments is as long as a hot summer’s day in Rugby, North Dakota.

He served as a member of the military police in the U.S. Air Force and earned the rank of master sergeant before he retired in 1987. As a civilian, he worked with the Burlington Police Department and the Ward County Sheriff’s Department.

In 2008, he came out of retirement to become chief of police in Rugby. He was asked to serve two years and, in Coca fashion, served a little more.

He’s been married to Janice for 43 years going on 44, is a father of two and grandfather of six. Lately, he’s also president at the local Lions Club, church pastor for Liberty Baptist Church, Salvation Army volunteer and a part-time bus driver. That last position requires a special license, something Coca acquired decades ago in the military, but he kept it secret for years in Rugby and for good reason.

In Rugby, a qualified bus driver with some time on his hands is as valuable of a commodity as the Bakken formation and the discovery of the Parshall Oil Field. Alright, maybe not quite, but close. In North Dakota, the towns are few and the miles in between are long. Coca knew this, and keeping in mind his propensity to say “yes,” he kept his bus driving ability to himself. That is, until somebody asked if he knew how to drive a bus, to which Coca responded, “yes.”  It didn’t take long for word to spread and he now drives buses for two different companies which includes driving for Minot public schools.

“I’m a part-time activities driver,” said Coca. “This means a lot of overnights, sometimes leaving Friday afternoons and not getting back until Saturday night.”

A part-time driver in North Dakota is pretty much considered a full-time job just about anywhere else.

“I ran into him in Mandan at a junior high track meet,” said Greg Sturm, The Salvation Army’s Western North Dakota field representative. Sturm has known Coca for the past couple years as a Salvation Army volunteer who helps people in need with whatever services are available to offer though the service extension program. “When I asked him what he was doing there, he said I drive the school bus.”

The city of Mandan is more than a two hour drive from Rugby, so initially Sturm was surprised to see Coca there too. But quickly any amazement went to the wayside as it simply confirmed to Sturm what he already knew about Coca. He has a deep devotion to service.

“I always like helping people and doing things,” said Coca. As a Salvation Army volunteer, he’s helped countless people.

“People seem to think it’s all transients, we do help people get settled in and who need help, but some wind up staying here,” Coca explained. “It’s a good little town.”

He would like to make things even better for not only the town, but for the entire county and is one of three candidates for Pierce County sheriff.

“This is what retired people do,” laughed Coca. “Stay busy.”

Coca said nobody asked him to run for sheriff, but rather, he volunteered.