Tom Coleman, former owner of the National Hotel, dies |

Tom Coleman, former owner of the National Hotel, dies

Tom Coleman holds up a painting of The National Hotel with his partner, Ernie Kehn, at a farewell party in February.
Submitted photo courtesy Robin Milam

Tom Coleman did things his way. So much, in fact, that his partner of almost 30 years — Ernestine Kehn — will have the song “My Way” performed at his service.

Coleman, former owner of the National Hotel in Nevada City, was a giant of Nevada County. An Elks Lodge member, a Rotarian and part of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, Coleman regularly gave back to his community.

Coleman, grand marshal of this year’s Fourth of July parade, died Tuesday in Reno. He was 80.

“He was one-of-a-kind,” said Kehn, who’s known as Ernie. “Had to be his way. He was a gentleman. After almost 30 years, he still opened my car door.”

A major supporter of downtown Nevada City events, Coleman opened the National Hotel to groups like Rotary and the Nevada City Council when needed. Coleman repeatedly was elected to the local chamber’s board of directors, said Duane Strawser, Nevada City mayor.

“He was one of the main people that brought me into the fold after we bought the bike shop,” Strawser said of his Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop. “I consider him a dear friend. It’s devastating news to hear that he passed.”

Cathy Whittlesey, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, has known Coleman for decades. She spoke with him on Monday about the parade’s arrangements, ensuring he had a parking space.

“I already missed him since he sold the National, but I’m really going to miss him now,” she said of the 2006 Business person of the Year award winner. “He was just very active in our community.”

Kehn will ride in the grand marshal’s carriage in next week’s parade, as will a grandson and a bartender from the National Hotel, she said.

Coleman owned the National Hotel for almost 40 years before selling it. Kehn said she’d work the bar and restaurant downstairs. Coleman would handle the hotel upstairs.

Coleman sold the hotel in February. Strawser said he worked closely with Coleman for three years to find the right buyer. New owner Jordan Fife has said he wants the hotel to reopen in November.

“It was a wonderful place,” Kehn said. “I miss it so bad, I can’t hardly stand it.”

George Rebane, a friend of Coleman, met him some 15 years ago at the National Hotel during a Rotary meeting. Coleman joined Rebane’s poker group shortly afterward.

“He was a real gentleman,” Rebane said. “His sense of humor — he had a dry wit which was enjoyed by all. He was one of the pillars of the community.”

Kehn said Coleman’s service is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 14 at the Nevada City Elks Lodge, 518 Highway 49, Nevada City. The service is open to the public.

“I’m sure going to miss him,” she said. “I’m sure going to miss that man.”

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email or call 530-477-4239.

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