As the proprietors of Donovan’s market in downtown Union City during the 1950s and 60s, my mom’s side of the family knew the Kingsley family on East High Street. Both sides of my family have long been friends with Jim Kingsley’s in-laws, the Case Family. We couldn’t have been happier to see Jim marry Judy, except for the fact that they settled in Albion instead of Union City. Hey, you can’t win ‘em all.
Growing up along Union City’s St. Joe River, Jim developed into a standout student and athlete. He took the neighborly, small-town values he acquired, including the customer service lessons honed at Horton’s store in Union City, with him when he went on to attend Albion College and then the Northwestern University School of Law. He applied them in his law practice and with his own family, the childhood sweetheart he married and the two successful children they reared who are also grounded in community.
The year he was seated on the Calhoun County Circuit Court bench, 1982, Jim keynoted my high school commencement. While I can’t remember exactly what he said, I remember being inspired to make something good out of my life like Judge Kingsley had.
My positive impression of Jim was reinforced every time I saw him after that point, including a 2008 interview where he said he hoped to be remembered as someone who “meant well.” At his 2014 retirement celebration, listening as multiple people feted Calhoun County’s longest-sitting circuit court judge of 32 years, nine months, it was obvious Jim had not just meant well, but done well. He was respected locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.
The last time I spoke with Jim, he was in Union City to eulogize his late sister-in-law, the irrepressible Sally Case Gifford, at her memorial service. I had a great vantage point, the piano bench at Lighthouse Funeral & Cremation, playing hymns.
Jim told stories of growing up around Sally, his wife’s sister, and the rest of the Case clan. His affection for family, togetherness and our community was evident. After the service, he inquired how my daughter was recovering from her recent illness and expressed concern regarding my job loss. He listened intently. While sometimes an overlooked quality among Kingsley’s attributes, to me, Jim’s ability to listen was perhaps the most foundational quality upon which most of the others rested. He always honored others through his attentiveness.
As I gave an update, Jim leaned forward, cocked his head slightly and trained his eyes in my direction with a thoughtful expression on his face. It conveyed that while there were many other people nearby, he was focused exclusively on me.
After I finished speaking, Jim bowed his head, touched the knuckles of his hand to his closed mouth and reflected a few moments before speaking. When he looked up, he earnestly expressed his thankfulness for Kate’s improving health, offered encouragement for coping with uncertainty, shared couple of job search ideas, then supportively squeezed my hand in parting.
That was gentlemanly Jim, as eloquent in how he spoke to everyone as was Robert Frost, in one of his favorite poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Although Jim Kingsley was laid to rest in the heat of summer, the promises of love and loyalty he kept to family, friends and the communities where he resided will keep memories of him kindled through the winters of life to come.
May future recipients of the James C. Kingsley Memorial Scholarship, so graciously established by Jim’s family, honor his memory through continued connection to community roots, no matter how far life takes them.