Be like Jim.
You didn’t have to know Jim Owen to want to be like him. You didn’t have to know him to respect the man he was and what he brought to this community. And you especially didn’t have to know him to reap some of the good and kind messages that he left behind.
But if you didn’t know Jim Owen, a Batavia resident whose name has been echoed throughout the city with particular might this past year, it truly was a loss that you never had the privilege to feel. Perhaps you’ve read about Jim recently, about his passion for the city school district as a substitute teacher, supporter, mentor, historian, and music lover who lived long enough to see the high school auditorium named after his father, Frank E. Owen.
Or perhaps you read about him being dubbed the Mayor of Redfield Parkway by Batavia City Council for his efforts to have pillars restored on the westside street, and tireless advocacy for the neighborhood and beyond. Or when he donated funds to make the Owen library at GO Art! a reality.
Make time for others
This piece isn’t so much about Jim as it is about what he created up until he died on Jan. 19 of this year. Yes, he gave the community quite a lot — financial and material donations, camaraderie, encouraging words, bits of history culled from his research, recognition, cheesy jokes that somehow always hit the mark, friendship, and, certainly, time. He always gave his time.
During Owen's funeral service Saturday, the Rev. Vern Saile noted something about Jim’s obituary. Usually, one’s obit states everything about that person, Saile said.
“But Jim’s obituary is almost entirely about the people he wants to thank,” Saile said in a near-packed sanctuary at Northgate Church.
That’s a striking difference. Instead of thinking about how he transformed the world, Jim thought about how others made an impact on him. Outward thinking. Positive thinking. Those weren’t just phrases from a motivational book; they were how Jim Owen lived his life.
Be a friend
“He loved people, he loved to encourage them,” Saile said. “He appreciated family, friends, students, and community. He may have more friends than anybody I’ve ever known.”
While visiting Jim in the hospital one day, Vern logged friends who stopped by while Jim had nodded off. There were a dozen in 90 minutes, Saile said with a hint of astonishment.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be positive
When he began his talk, Saile admitted that he first found Jim Owen “a little quirky.” He wasn’t quite sure how to take the man that had volunteered to be part of an important committee.
“He didn’t always say a lot, but when he did speak, it was positive,” Saile said. “I cannot remember him saying anything negative.”
He then joked about how Jim would check to see if he was in the minutes. He would sometimes make the first or second motion just to ensure his name was documented. He was the same with local events — often attending ribbon cuttings and business openings, somehow appearing in the media photos.
Quirky? Perhaps. His mom, dad, brother and sister have died, leaving Jim as the remaining Owen, and it seemed as though he wanted his life to be known. To be worth something. Sound familiar? Who can say that’s an unfamiliar notion for most mortals?
Be interested in others
Jim’s good friend Michael Marsh gave an example of how caring and genuine Jim was with everyone he met. He would ask your name, where are you from, “and on and on, and on and on,” Marsh said.
Jim Owen had a sincere interest in people — it wasn’t just small talk, but a need to know more about someone. He “strongly believed in education, and giving tools” for students to believe in themselves, Marsh said.
Jim was a coach, and often told his students that “it’s not important if you come in first or come in last, but that you come in.”
“He would slide into your life and just be there,” Marsh said.
And without Jim’s jovial one-liners, questions, historical trivia, upbeat adages, and other topics of discussion, “you find yourself missing it,” Marsh said.
Jim was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last year, and during his last days in hospice care, he wondered aloud if he would be forgotten. Alas, no.
Leave a piece of yourself
“His presence has caused all of us to form new friendships, and to foster those friendships,” Marsh said. “It’s our responsibility to carry this legacy on.”
Marsh reminded folks to take time to appreciate one another. It only takes moments to enjoy a conversation, share encouraging words, or make someone smile.
Another one of Jim’s favorite sayings was that “a setback is just a setup for a comeback.” Saile believes that he got the ultimate comeback and is safe and at peace.
Meanwhile, Jim left behind plenty of people to carry forth his legacy of not just seeing the glass as half full, but making it wholly delicious.
Be like Jim.
Top Photo of Michael Marsh speaking about Jim Owen during Owen's funeral service Saturday at Northgate FMC in Batavia; musical performances included vocals, piano, violin and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a special request that Owen had made when planning his service. Photos by Howard Owens.