A History Story Like No Other Results In Pride and $10,000 Donation

Client: UMFS’ Media Relations Program

Tactics: Media Relations

Strategy: Targeted local reporter Bill Lohmann from The Richmond Times-Dispatch to tell a history story that could have come from a Hollywood movie.

Outcomes: Media Coverage

It was a story that most would believe came from a Nicholas Sparks movie. Our client UMFS, which ran an orphanage in the 1930s, uncovered the story of a man named Ray Coffelt and tasked us with telling it the best way possible. While a teenage resident of the orphanage, Coffelt jumped on a train in Virginia, rode it to New Mexico, later joined the military and fought for his country, and returned to marry his sweetheart. The strategic pitch to a specific reporter resulted in Collfelt’s story running on the Fourth of July with the result of $10,000.


Primary research was gathered by reviewing archived photos from UMFS resources that included Ray Coffelt (now deceased). It was also done via personal phone calls with the Coffelt family. Nancy Coffelt, Ray’s wife met regularly with previous residents of UMFS’ orphanage known as “The Home” and gathered additional details pertaining to the story.

Additional research was conducted via review of a Facebook post that revealed that Ray Cofflet’s grandson had commented on a photo featuring his grandfather. Internet searches for the best reporter to cover the story turned out to be a game changer as it uncovered someone who loved to tell interesting history stories in a unique fashion.

Armed with the goal of using media relations to generate branding and awareness of UMFS, we leveraged the strategy of targeting reporter Bill Lohmann from The Richmond Times-Dispatch to tell a history story that could have come from a Hollywood movie. We then developed a specific media pitch that focused on his unique writing/reporting and key facts of the story.

We first emailed our pitch to Lohmann and within minutes he responded with interest. This resulted in a phone call with him to schedule the interview. Since Nancy Cofflet had aged and was not in the best of health, we were challenged with planning the interview and keeping the Coffelt family engaged through the logistics of scheduling an in-person meeting. We arranged interviews for the Coffelt family and UMFS staff. Lohmann met the Coffelt family on the campus of UMFS, where Ray and Nancy first met and later married. He talked through Ray’s history, scanned multiple photo albums, and took some pictures. The story ran on Independence Day, A Story of Remembrance.

We saw an immediate reaction from the story running as board members and UMFS staff read and shared the story. More than 6,000 people interacted with the Facebook posts that featured the Coffelt story and led to additional awareness of the history of UMFS. We also evaluated our efforts through emails and phone calls to UMFS staff and board members. The organization received an unsolicited $10,000 donation from a reader of the article. UMFS was thrilled with the results.