After 53 years, Keith Coiley retires from Fermilab

Keith Coiley

After 53 years, Keith Coiley is retiring. Keith started his career at the lab on his 17th birthday in June 1969. To bookend it, he will retire in his birthday month as well.

As Coiley says, he basically grew up at Fermilab—and he has innumerable stories.

On his first day, Fermilab was “out in the country.” The only place around was Warrenville Bowl on Route 59, the pre-Users-Center hangout for lab employees. The Village was the hub of the lab, where many of the offices on site were located, as Wilson Hall had not been built yet. There were pheasants everywhere, like the Canada goose population today.

That first summer, which he calls “very enterprising,” Coiley was part of the farm crew. Armed with the energy of youth and “the worst equipment you could have,” the crew cleaned up the barns, removing abandoned items from previous residents, and mowed grass—which in places reached two feet high—with push mowers. The introduction of a single riding lawn mower resulted in one of Coiley’s early lab memories: a fight among three people who climbed onto the mower ended with the three jumping off at the same time and the mower plowing into a tree.

Coiley, who was not involved in the lawn mower situation, was asked back the following summer, which he and his coworkers spent planting hay fields, baling hay and taking care of the bison.

1969 Federal Summer Employment Program for Youth group photo. Coiley is in the second row, sixth from the left.

As the end of his third summer approached, Coiley was encouraged to apply for an opening in Receiving. He got the job, and for the next several years, he held a variety of positions there, which included traveling to all corners of the site, where he would meet people and chat or see critters that enjoyed our site—ospreys, beavers, bald eagles and fox. At one point, Coiley drove a bus for lab transportation and helped establish continual bus routes to meet the increasing need.

Driving a Fermilab bus in 1974. Photo from the Village Cryer.

Eventually, Coiley became a computer operator trainee, which was the start of a lengthy career within Computing. He went on to manage the computer operator group, and, as the technology evolved, so did his work. Coiley helped manage the Physics Research Equipment Pool and then became a facilities task manager. It was in this last position that he began developing a lot of the processes and techniques that he ended up using for the past several years in facilities management activities for the lab’s computing areas.

Keeping in mind his perilous days avoiding scuffles over lawn mowers and feeding bison, he has always approached his work from a safety point of view. He helped establish processes within Computing to avoid having people perform activities that they normally do not, such as moving office furniture and other equipment. Having a repeatable process not only saves money and time, he said, but it also ensures people familiar with the work and safety requirements around it are doing it. In addition, Coiley coordinates and manages staff or subcontractors performing work in these facilities including delivery and installation of large computer systems. He serves on FESHCom, the lab’s safety committee responsible for reviewing safety and security policies.

“Fermilab has provided for me. I have never had to seek employment for half a century. I have definitely been blessed,” he said.

And Coiley has enjoyed the culture at the lab. “It’s like a little UN in the middle of nowhere. You’re meeting people from around the world, seeing grad students from different areas around the country,” he said. “Where else does the governor or senators or representatives come to your place of work?”

The lab will miss Coiley, too.

Working at FCC. Photo: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

Keith has been a fixture at the lab since there has been a lab,” said Jim Amundson, head of SCD. “Every time I ran into Keith in the hallway, his energetic smile and outgoing personality reminded me what a great community the lab can be. He has been getting things done and keeping computing operations running smoothly for so long, it is hard to imagine how we are going to get along without him.”

“Everyone with whom Keith has interacted will greatly miss him,” said Stu Fuess, SCD deputy head of SCD. “It will be difficult to replace his intimate knowledge of whom to work with to get things done. More than that, you would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier person.”

“It’s been amazing watching Keith interact with his customers,” said Tim Kasza, who has worked with Coiley since around 2007. “He is a people person who has developed and cultivated business relationships over the years with people throughout the lab. It’s been a joy working with him.”

Today, Coiley feels like kids do when they’re getting ready for summer vacation: that anticipation of what is to come. “I’m gonna take it easy, do some fishing, do some traveling, spend time with the grandkids, do some volunteer work—spend more time playing in the dirt,” he said. Like many retirees, he has a “honey do” list, but although he admires and respects them, he will only care for bison again if he absolutely must.

Keith’s last day at Fermilab will be June 16. Please wish him well before his retirement.