A mother ‘first and foremost’: Jolene Cote’s legacy

EDMONTON — Jolene Cote was many things to many people.

To the town of Whitecourt, she was the New Year’s baby for 1975. Cote grew up in the area with her parents and three sisters, before moving to Edmonton in 1989 when she was starting high school.

“Jolene was a really good big sister,” Trina Pfannmuller told CTV News, in a sit-down interview with Cote’s family. “She was a wonderful friend.”

Jolene Cote's birth announcement

Courtesy: The Whitecourt Star

To countless young people, Cote was a dedicated and gifted educator.

“She always knew she was going to be a teacher,” said Cote’s mother, Dorothy Commandeur. “It was like, right from the time she was little, she knew.”

Cote graduated from the University of Alberta in 1996, and began a teaching career that would ultimately bring her to Greystone Centennial Middle School, in Spruce Grove.

“She was born to be a teacher,” said McKenzie Johnson, a former student.

Johnson, and her close friends Sarah Dube and Hayley Meade, were taught by Mrs. Cote in junior high. They referred to her affectionately as just “Cote.”

Jolene Cote in the classroom

The trio met with CTV News last month to talk about the legacy of their former teacher.

“Teachers make an impact for the rest of your life, and that’s so evident with her,” said Dube, who is now a teacher herself.

“She was one of the reasons I became a teacher.”

Meade, now a paramedic, has a tattoo of ripples in water, symbolizing Cote’s lasting impact on the people whose lives she touched.

“She’s somebody that you always remember,” said Meade. “She’s one of the teachers that inspires you to do better things in life.”

To anyone who faced her, or played alongside her on a sports field or court, Jolene Cote was a natural competitor.

“She loved sports,” said Commandeur. “She loved baseball, and then when she got older, it was handball.”

Jolene Cote at soccer tournament

In her 30s, Cote took up soccer and joined a women’s team.

“She was a super, super athlete,” said her former coach, Sandy Adamson.

Adamson’s wife, Silvia, also a teammate to Cote, remembers her for her personality, on and off the pitch.

“She always was bubbly, enthusiastic,” she told CTV News. “She was playful.”

On Oct. 12, 2011, that team won gold in a tournament at the Edmonton Soccer Centre West. Hours later, Cote was found dead outside her home, west of Edmonton.

Her death was ruled a homicide. It remains unsolved.

READ MORE: 9-year-old homicide of Stony Plain teacher ‘solvable’: Alta. RCMP

“When that day happened, when we got the call that Jolene had died, you know, it just blew up our lives, and everybody else’s around us,” said Rhonda Berg, another sister.

The family’s grief and surprise were amplified when they found out Cote’s death had been ruled a homicide.

“I was just completely shocked all over again, because who on earth would ever murder Jolene?” said Commandeur.

The thoughts of Cote’s family members immediately turned to her children, Ayden and Adison, then four and six years old.

“So I just focused on her children, spent as much time as I could with them, let them talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, and just tried to be there for them, to support them as much as possible,” Commandeur told CTV News.

Jolene Cote and her kids

Cote’s kids are now teenagers. They have since moved to Mexico with their father, Mike Cote, but both stay in touch with family members in Edmonton.

“I know how much it would mean to Jolene that her children are involved with our family,” said Commandeur.

Family members saw all the sides of Jolene Cote: daughter, sister, athlete and teacher. But of all her roles, one stood out.

“Her children were definitely the centre of her life, and meant everything in the world to her,” said Commandeur.

“She lived to show her children life, and the world,” said Berg.

Cote’s third sister, Krista Knapp, told CTV News, “She was awesome. Everything was about the kids, you know? And I think that’s probably the toughest thing.”

Jolene Cote and her family

The mother and sisters have now devoted their lives to carrying on, the way Jolene Cote would want them to.

They still hope for charges and a conviction, and continue to offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Rhonda Berg vows she and the rest of the family will never stop sharing Cote’s story.

“Jolene doesn’t have a voice anymore. So we’re her voice.”

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