THE LIFE STORY OF JENEY McCOY
(Jennifer Reiko Watanabe Young McCoy)
March 18, 1934 – July 21, 2022
We are sorry to report the loss of Jeney McCoy at age 88, a Santa Barbara inspiration who besides helping her late husband Jim McCoy grow McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams into the storied local brand that it is, was active in civic causes, and influenced three generations with her infectious spirit and energy.
Jeney was quite the character, truly a one-of-a-kind personality, full of boundless good energy, generous to a fault, fun to be around, a dedicated friend, and an even more dedicated wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. There were four great chapters in her long storied 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 a ship captain with English roots; Jennifer’s great grandfather helped settle Christchurch, New Zealand. Jennifer’s father was Hideo Watanabe, a half-Japanese merchant who imported silk and was interned in a U.S. concentration camp in New York during WWII. Hideo had a Japanese father and British mother, unusual for the late 1800’s.
Jennifer’s earliest memories were of living on “The Farm” in Doylestown Pennsylvania, a bucolic pastoral estate that belonged to her Aunt Dorothy and “Uncle Oscar”, the lyricist and Broadway legend Oscar Hammerstein II. Jennifer attended boarding schools in the area (Baldwin Elementary and George School) where she grew into a beautiful, long-limbed and tan young woman who competed on the tennis and swim teams, as well as acted in school productions.
At age 19, after her father tragically passed away, Jennifer began to travel around western Europe both with her mother and on her own, igniting a love for travel that was never extinguished. When Jennifer finally returned to the U.S., she enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She never did early mornings very well, and so it was no surprise that during an early morning religion class, Jennifer would slowly nod off during the lecture. Her bobbing beautiful head was noticed by a smitten 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 that Richard wrote to her during this time, around 1954.
CHAPTER TWO – RAISING 4 BOYS IN LOS ANGELES
Richard and Jennifer fell in love, married and had the first of their four sons, Kevin, in 1957. After getting his PhD 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 the 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, son Mike was born (in Bari Italy). Upon their return to Los Angeles, sons Jimmy and Andy quickly followed.
Those 15 years in Los Angeles were when Jennifer really fulfilled her stated childhood dream of “being a mommy,” raising four strong-willed successful rowdy boys. It was 1960-1975 and Jennifer was aged 25-40. During that time, Jennifer made over 7,000 lunches, plus countless breakfasts and dinners, laundry, dishes, cleaning, and then of course the driving … driving to kid sporting events (she was the mom in the stands whose screaming encouragement she made sure could be heard in deep right field), driving to lessons, and perhaps most excitingly to movie sets. Jennifer would drive her boys all over Los Angeles to make some extra money in commercials, television shows, and movies.
No surprise, Jennifer’s energy was equal to the task – and more! She had a laissez faire, trusting style of parenting 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 TV game shows where she won furniture, appliances, and thousands of dollars. She also worked at the ticket counter at the Santa Monica ice skating rink so her boys could get free entry and cheap lessons. But as those who knew her know only too well, Jennifer also loved to sell. Besides the assortment of multi-level marketing items (including bras), Jennifer also sold gourmet imported foods that led her to attend numerous food conventions.
CHAPTER THREE – SANTA BARBARA
In the mid-1970’s, Jennifer changed her name to Jeney for “numerology reasons,” believing it would change her destiny. Perhaps she was right because shortly thereafter, thanks to a rather fortuitous trade show booth placement, Jeney met the second great love in her life, gregarious James O. McCoy from Santa Barbara. Big Jim was the purveyor of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams of Santa Barbara, a local legend. Soon a new, 40-year, second life started for Jeney and Jim in Santa Barbara, melding Jim’s family of daughter Monika and son Robert with Jeney and her four sons. Somehow, they made it work.
Joking she “had to change models to get the girl,” Jeney, then 43 years old, and Jim welcomed in little Jeni Reiko McCoy in 1977. The combined family moved into a Spanish style house with a pool on the upper east side of Santa Barbara which not surprisingly hosted many parties, some of which Jim and Jeney even knew about. It was an open, friendly household where all of the kids could, and did bring their friends (and their friend’s friends) to swim or simply hang out.
The decade that followed was a high energy frenzy that Jeney not only coveted but in part created by infusing every day with her own sense of controlled chaos. The home 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 away, Jeney filled her house with Swiss or French au-pairs, local and international guests, and friends spanning a lifetime of active living.
Jeney and Jim were not surprisingly also active around town, spending quality time at the University Club, the Montecito Country Club and the Yacht Club. Jeney was captain of the Montecito Country Club women’s tennis team that competed against the other club teams – which, win or lose, always seemed to end with a celebratory lunch. Civically, both Jim and Jeney volunteered with the Fiesta planning, with Jim serving as El Presidente in 1993, and Jeney the Fiesta Primera Donna. Both Jim and Jeney were so very generous and well known in town thanks to their support of local charities, and their gifts of ‘wooden nickels’ (good for a free scoop at McConnell’s) were forever being passed around town. For many years, Jeney and Jim organized the annual Elegant Evening bash at the Montecito Country Club that attracted hundreds of fellow dancing aficionados each year.
CHAPTER FOUR – THE FINAL CHAPTER
Jeney’s flamboyant life and radiant personality brought smiles and joy to all who were privileged to know her. But she was not without her own personal tragedies. Jeney’s stepson Robert McCoy died in 1980 at age 20. 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. Following Jim’s death, Jeney was able to do some traveling with her children, and to visit relatives in the South Pacific, but as her health declined, so did the breadth of her world. The onset of Covid, with its restrictions on travel and visitation, was not a welcome addition to Jeney’s final years.
Nonetheless, the final few months of Jeney’s life were truly a blessing, both to her and to 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 go through old love letters, old photographs, and old movies of her life and the lives of her family, reminding herself of the positive impact she had on so many others and the love she was able to share and receive from so many people.
Jeney died peacefully in her sleep the night of July 21. She was in her bed, in her home, surrounded by her adoring cats, with family nearby, and without hospice or other medical intrusions. Characteristically, she died with a smile on her face, likely dreaming of her days on The Farm. In Jeney’s wake are her four sons, Kevin (wife Berni), Mike (wife Debbie), Jimmy (wife Tracy), and Andy (wife Kate), her step-daughter 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 quite some time. But Jeney wouldn’t want it this way. If she could have this one last wish, it would be that all those whom she had the privilege of touching in some fashion or other should not mourn, but instead should turn on some strobe lighting, and dance … preferably to CCR’s Green River.