Coenen founded Taste of Athens with 21 years ago. They “borrowed” the idea after Downs went to Taste of Atlanta with her husband. The first event was on a Sunday, a slow day for restaurants, and in February when there weren’t many fundraising events happening at that time. Downs says now that she is “in total awe of all the hard work and the community dedication it has taken to make it into the fun and delicious event that it is.”
Coenen’s current volunteer efforts are with her board position on the Nancy Travis Childcare Project. The goal of NTCP is to increase access to quality childcare for young children in the Athens-Clarke County area. Coenen was on this board when it started in the early 1990s but left to pursue other projects. She said she recently rejoined because, “The first few years of life are so critical, it’s important to create opportunities for children to develop in the most positive way.”
Coenen learned the value of helping the community at a young age and credits her parents as a major inspiration for her current level of involvement. Growing up, she watched Greenville, S.C. be transformed and revitalized through her parents’ generous financial donations and volunteer efforts. Her father was a conservationist and lawyer. In the 1970s, he helped develop Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area to protect 10,000 acres of beautiful, threatened properties. He also formed Natural Land Trust, an organization that Coenen currently serves as a board member.
She pursues conservation efforts locally as a member of the Oconee River Land Trust Board. The board exists to uphold easements in 10 counties, primarily protecting land in the Upper Oconee River Watershed. Coenen’s love for this land is evident. The exterior facing walls of her living room are large panels of windows, overlooking the North Oconee River. She and her husband spend many hours on their porch overlooking the river.
Coenen’s father inspired her to be a conservationist and a musician as well. He played piano regularly and music was always in her home. Coenen says taking piano lessons as a child was expected and she began playing piano and composing music in primary school. She majored in music at Sanford University and has continued to play throughout her life. Continuing her creative learning, she picked up oil painting 15 years ago and enjoys painting outdoor scenes.
Her love for the arts has also translated to her community service life. She currently serves on the board for Canopy Studio, a flying aerial dance trapeze studio. She also previously served a two-year stint with the Athens-Clarke County Arts Commission.
Coenen is currently writing a piano duet with her son titled “Walking the Blue Ridge.” They will perform at “Upcountry Muse,” a fundraising event in Greenville on April 24. The event will benefit Upstate Forever, an organization founded by her brother Brad Wynche. Upstate Forever is an environmentalist group aimed at promoting sensible growth and protecting special places. Wynche also was impacted by their father, by following in his footsteps to become a lawyer specializing in the environmental field and serving on many boards. Similar to their father, he describes watching the changes in South Carolina “with pride and dread,” as South Carolina has flourished economically but at the cost of natural areas and historic sites.
For Coenen and Wynche, serving the communities and environments of the Southeast is a family tradition. Despite her lifetime of service and accomplishment, Downs describes Coenen as “one of those people that never ever cares about being recognized for all of her hard work, but shows up every time to ‘get the job done.’”