Jim was born in May, 1944, in Sacramento where his Dad, William Elmer was training glider pilots for the war effort. After the war, the family settled in Bakersfield; his Dad became a teacher and he got a sister, Mary.
In high school, Jim’s father was named principal for Johnsondale, a lumber town above Porterville. Instead of graduating from such a tiny school, he was sent to Carpinteria High for his senior year, where the thrived
He went to Porterville City College, then to Fresno State, where he graduated with a BA in English.
He married Meredith Lynn Crosby in 1969… during one of Fresno County’s worst floods. He fathered two children, Scott (born in 1973) and Eric (born in 1975). Their first house was on Malsbury, in the Fig Garden Loop. Later, they moved to Sanger, to spare Meredith driving long distances through the winter fog. The lived for a few years on Quality, in a small house backing on fields, then moved into a beautiful house on Jenny that backed on a canal that filled with wild blackberries in the summer.
In 1983 Meredith died from a breast cancer that metastasized, leaving Jim a widower. He raised his sons alone, save for his “19 month mistake,” when he only wished he was raising them alone. They relocated into Fresno from the county, moving into his house on Mesa in 1987, as Eric entered junior high and Scott was a high school freshman.
He retired after 33 years of teaching in 2002. In 2011, Mary Ferchak traveled to California to be his girlfriend and eventual fiancee. After years of health issues, a viral infection killed more than 50% of his heart muscle, sending him to the hospital shortly after Christmas 2012. He spent New Years 2013 in the hospital, but emerged slight of breath thereafter. His stamina never returned; a pacemaker was installed that activated twice in his lifetime.
In 2015, Jim fell into a depressive funk. In January 2016, Mary returned to family in Pittsburgh, while Jim got treatment for his depression and weathered the separation. On September 26th Jim went to the emergency room, where he was swiftly admitted. On the 29th he was moved to the ICU. He never left; on October 3rd he aspirated, his heart stopped, and he couldn’t be revived.
As a kid, Jim rambled the neighborhood, climbing in dry canals and building forts for his army men. (And throwing them in the air with kleenex parachutes and bombs tied to the army men…) He rode widely on his bicycle and hung out with friends in convenient empty lots. One day he was throwing a horseshoe nail he found at a rock… and it bounced back up, piercing his eye, grievously damaging the vision in it for the rest of his life. He laughed about his lack of depth perception as an adult.
In high school, Jim ran in several track events–all the short distances and the triple jump. “I’m a quarter-horse, not a Clydesdale,” he often remarked later. The 440 was as long as he’d run–and that not willingly. He also played football for Bakersfield High… but the campus was huge, so he was on the “D” squad, due to his small size and light weight. In his senior year he transferred to Carpinteria High, where his coach called him “98 pounds of dynamite”! He played as both a defensive end and a running back.
On Friday, at the reception after Jim’s funeral, his friend Brian Husted told a story of Dad’s first day of practice at Carpinteria High. They were doing a goal line drill; Brian was the running back and Dad was on defense. They lined up and Brian charged the hole; Dad accelerated at full speed and slammed into Brian. After they peeled everyone off the pile, Dad’s back was tweaked by the impact, but he crowed when he heard that he’d kept Brian out of the end zone. Thereafter, they had a call and response at parties and other gatherings; Jim would remind everyone that he’d stopped Brian, and Brian would ask him how his back was.
As a teacher, he often coached sports, particularly track and field and flag football. (He had a story about being interviewed and rejected by the Clovis School District. His interview was going well, but came to an abrupt end after he replied that full contact football in elementary grades was bad due to concussive impacts and greenstick fractures.)
Especially early in his career, he’d be out at Saturday track meets throughout the spring. At later schools, when teachers would divvy up the responsibilities (like yard duty, Christmas plays and the like), he’d often coach–football, basketball, and track. (Never baseball–he wasn’t a fan of the slow pace. And being one eyed was a particular challenge for playing baseball.)
I remember playing basketball with Dad and Uncle Gary against me and Eric in front of the Correia house on Iris on holidays. He loved to startle you with a sharp “boo” when you were trying to shoot. He and Gary played against us as a pair of rambunctious teens–even when I had my inches on him and Eric’s athleticism, they could still intimidate us into taking terrible shots instead of laying up.
When I was at Roosevelt with him (for my 5th and 6th grades, 1984-86), he would still jog around the track to keep the pace, and sometimes line up for a play or two in flag football to demonstrate a technique. The teachers would play basketball 3 on 5, sometimes, at lunch recess. Somehow, five were never enough… especially when I was trying to shoot. [As Dad said a few times… I always knew where to be, but could never capitalize on being open. Fortunately, my early height at least let me get gangly arms waving in the teachers’ face…]
He turned out to coach Eric’s under-10 soccer team; he seemed genuinely happy to get out and drill the kids, even after a day of teaching. Unfortunately, Eric and I came down with serious asthma the same season… so he wound up coaching even after his kids could no longer play. (That was the season of Sara, the great mistake, which connects some dots…)