If you were to ask any student on Gannon University’s campus who Mr. Coleman is, chances are they would know.
Aside from the university president, Keith Taylor, Ph.D., John Coleman is probably the second most familiar face on campus.
Coleman, a member of Gannon University’s Police and Safety Department, is known for going above and beyond his duties to ensure not just the safety of Gannon students, but their well-being, too.
His friendliness and care for others is felt all around campus by students, staff and faculty.
“Mr. Coleman is just a great friendly face of Gannon,” said senior physician assistant major Alex Safko. “He really boosts my confidence whenever I see him.”
“He’s always friendly and he’s always there to talk,” said Kaitlyn Falk, Gannon faculty member from University Wellness. “He really remembers all of the students’ names, too, even though there’s a lot.”
An Erie native, Coleman’s journey to becoming such an important member of the Gannon community began years ago.
“Looking here and thinking about it, my journey to here has been crazy,” he said.
Coleman grew up as the oldest child in a family of four. He and his siblings were born and raised in Erie by their mother.
Early in elementary school, Coleman’s teacher, Nancy Eichelsdorser, left a significant impact on him by introducing him to the Gannon name early on.
Eichelsdorser was a Gannon graduate and her husband was director of Gannon’s business administrative department at the time. Their love for Gannon and their compassion to help others is something that always stuck with Coleman.
In high school, Coleman attended Academy High School, which is now known as the Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy.
He was heavily involved in his school’s extracurricular activities as an athlete participating in football, wresting and baseball.
Through a program that allowed high school students to acquire college credits, Coleman was a dual enrollment student taking classes at Gannon while in high school.
Coleman was a talented athlete and received offers from Penn State University for a wrestling scholarship and Arizona State University for a baseball scholarship.
Grambling State University, under the coaching of the late legend Edward Robinson, was also interested in recruiting Coleman for his football talents.
Not wanting to be too far away from home and from his family, Coleman turned down these multiple athletic scholarships to stay close to Erie.
“Being the oldest child that’s basically what I wanted to do, be close to home,” he said. “Things happen for a reason and here I am.”
Policing and helping others is always something that Coleman had an interest in.
After high school, Coleman decided to attend Edinboro University where he had to choose whether he wanted to pursue a career as a police officer or to pursue a career in business administration.
When presented with an opportunity to work for the Nabisco Company, he went to work there in sales and marketing.
During his time with Nabisco, Coleman was an overachiever, winning some company awards and always working hard.
Coleman married his high school sweetheart and they were expecting a child, so he always tried to work hard to support them.
Coleman now has seven children and 10 grandchildren and the aspect of family has always been an important part of his life.
In 1997 and 1998, when the Nabisco Company in Pittsburgh downsized, Coleman was an unfortunate casualty of the cuts.
During this time, he decided to go back to school, starting at Mercyhurst University, where he studied business administration.
The tragedy of 9/11 inspired Coleman to return to his dream of helping others with police work.
“I switched my major to criminal justice and figured I’d work for Homeland Security because I was all upset about what had just happened to our country,” he said.
Coleman began working in the Police and Safety Department at Gannon in April of 2001, making this year his 15th year with the university.
In 2012, Coleman received a degree in criminal justice and a degree in liberal studies with a minor in correctional process and political science from Gannon.
At the graduation ceremony in which Coleman received his degree, he received a standing ovation from the students, faculty and staff present.
When going up to receive his degree, Coleman heard a thundering noise and looked to the door to see if someone else — someone very important — had walked into the room.
“And here these people were applauding me,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Another highlight of Coleman’s time at Gannon occurred in 2007 when he was the recipient of the Bishop Trautman Feed My Sheep Award. “It was quite the honor because I’ve always worked hard to try and make a difference in someone’s life,” he said.
Coleman isn’t the only member of his immediate family who is a member of the Gannon community.
One of his daughters graduated last fall with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and another daughter of his graduated two years earlier with a degree in communications and theatre.
“The Gannon community has always reached out to our family and it’s been one of those blessed rides,” he said.
“My family will always come first, but my Gannon family will always come second. It will always be a place that I love and I hope that I built a foundation that will always be remembered.”
Students all around campus agree that Coleman is a ray of positivity on Gannon’s campus.
“He just always makes me smile and he always checks in on us because he cares,” said sophomore English and Spanish major Kate Robb.
“He says that we are the future and he just makes me feel happy and I know I’ll remember that after my time at Gannon is over.”
Junior pre-physical therapy major Dominick Goldbach said, “I love when he checks in on us when we are studying and says, ‘I believe in you guys, you are the future.’”
As a security man, a friendly face and a campus sweetheart, Coleman is a valuable addition that makes Gannon a home away from home for so many students.
“My main thing is safety first but I enjoy doing a little more,” Coleman said. “Making you feel at home, making you feel like family.
“I try to reach out to all who have become a part of this university and I’m glad that I’ve made such an impact on so many people.”