Dec 22, 2021
In Share Your Memory
My name is Mark Hassebrock, son of Jim’s sister Betty so I have known Jim for quite a while. When my sisters and I were in grade school back in the days when my grandparents still lived on the farm on Kickerville Road, Jim was a bit of a mythical figure. We usually only saw him at Christmas and I remember hearing Grandma talking excitedly about “Jimmy” coming to the gathering. The only member of the family more like a unicorn in those days was Jim’s brother Joel. I loved Jim’s stories about Joel, in particular the one about how the two of them rode together on one Honda 750 motorcycle to Indianapolis for the 500 race. It’s a long ride from Washington to Indiana. Now picture for a moment two full-grown men riding double for hours at a time on what was by no means a touring motorcycle. I couldn’t believe it when Jim told me about it, and it makes me chuckle whenever I think of it. Of course, knowing what I do about both of them, they shortened the ride as much as possible by running that Honda as fast as it would go. I was about seven or eight years old one summer and the family was gathered in Whatcom County. I have a picture somewhere of me sitting on Jim’s Honda in Aunt Helen’s front yard. He took me for a ride that day, probably from the farm to Helen’s place at Birch Bay. I was too short to reach the pegs in back, so I rode in front and I remember holding onto the handlebars with a death grip, terrified of falling off and thrilled at the same time. I could see the speedometer and remember gushing to my Dad “We went 40 miles per hour!” What makes that story even funnier is about 20 years later Jim talked me into buying a Harley so we could ride to the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota. I had a sport bike previously, so I was no stranger to speed on a bike, but it’s different in the upright seating position on a Harley with no windshield. Prior to Sturgis, Jim and I took a weekend trip to Vancouver B.C. Jim was in the lead position, running very casually at about 80 mph. I was employing my death grip again trying not to get blown off the back of my bike thinking “How is that maniac making this look so easy?” That was when I figured out how much difference a windshield makes, and I had one installed by the time we headed out to Sturgis. We rolled through Montana and Wyoming at about 90 mph. It was a fantastic trip. When I was close to finishing my college degree I was very burned out, and I was considering taking a break from school. Jim called and told me how he wished he would have gone to college, but most importantly he told me that it would be much harder to finish the degree after taking a break. He was the one who convinced me to stick it out. I attended summer quarter to finish, and I know that he was right. If I had not finished at that time, it would have been a long time before I got back to it, if ever. I know he was proud that I finished (that I was a Husky only made it better). To sweeten the deal a little, he promised me if I finished my degree he would let me borrow his ’64 Corvette. He kept his promise and I borrowed that car several times, including one year he told me to just take it home for the summer. When I graduated from college, Jim and I were both bachelors and we spent more time together than we ever had before. We made the Sturgis run one summer and attended the Daytona 500 several times together. The race was fun, but just hanging out with Jim in Daytona Beach was a good time by itself. Jim enjoyed beer. One evening we sat in a little bar that was right on the beach. We just sat at a table peeling boiled shrimp, talking a long time about life and our family. I don’t know how long we sat there because there were multiple pitchers, which didn’t seem to affect him at all. The next day however, I was feeling the effects of the night before, so Jim thought it was a good idea to do some sightseeing in the car. I tried to keep it together but somewhere in Daytona Beach, Florida there is a palm tree that can testify to the outcome. Not long after that period, I got married and started my own family as did my sisters in roughly the same timeframe. With Isaac and Anna gone, my sister Kristi took it upon herself to make sure the Willems family stayed in touch. For nearly 25 years now we have set a Saturday in early December to gather at Kristi’s house as the Willems family. One of Jim’s favorite things at that gathering (aside from the great food) was when we would break out the hymnals and sing all the old Christmas songs. And being who she is, Kristi also started a tradition of descending on Jim’s house for the Ice Fest weekend in January and a campout in his yard every summer. He liked to pretend he was putting up with all this nonsense to be a good sport, but I know he loved being the “Camp Director”. Because of those annual events, my kids and their cousins grew up knowing Jim probably even better than my sisters and I did when we were growing up. I am thankful for that. When we invaded Jim and Siegi’s yard last summer, I spent some time talking to Jim about what he did after he graduated from high school. I had heard bits and pieces of his life story before, but never really the whole progression that led to his career with Chevron. I’m glad we did that. He was an interesting man, an important figure in my life, and I will miss him very much.