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James "Jim" Burnham Silsby

September 28, 1935 November 27, 2019
James "Jim" Burnham Silsby
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Obituary for James "Jim" Burnham Silsby

OBITUARY - James Burnham Silsby, Jr.
9/28/1935 - 11/27/2019


James (Jim) Burnham Silsby, Jr. beloved father, brother and friend, peacefully passed in his sleep, November 27, 2019, at Unity Point Methodist Hospital, in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, due to cardiac failure following treatment for a long term illness. He was 84 years old.

Jim was born on September 28, 1935, in Leon, Iowa to his parents, James (Burnham) and Thelma Silsby. His mother told the story of his difficult birth and the prayers of his father for her relief, and he was born, a perfect and beautiful baby. He joined his sister, Junia Clare, and later they welcomed baby sister, Margaret, to their family. He grew up in a loving community, Lamoni, Iowa, where he was raised in the Community of Christ Church (RLDS-Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). He was gifted with a beautiful tenor voice, and would often sing in church and in the community. His grandfather, J. Arthur Lane, had a General Store. His father was the Lamoni Postmaster and his mother was the church organist and taught piano lessons out of the home. He helped his father on the family farm and told stories of mowing the public parks, the yards and pastures throughout town with his horse, Dixie, pulling a horse-drawn mower. Jim loved the farm-life, his family and friends. He never knew a stranger, always wore a smile, could start up a conversation with anyone, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim attended and graduated from Lamoni Schools, and then attended and graduated from Graceland College in 1955, where he was active in band (trumpet), choir, drama, and sports. Following his graduation, he travelled throughout the United States. His adventures included service in the US Navy, and work out west where he met and fell in love with Helen Hawks. They married in 1957, and made their first home in Imbler, Oregon. They moved back to Iowa in 1959, where their five children were born. They spent many happy times with family gatherings at The Grandparent Silsby’s Lamoni home, with holidays, caroling, parades, ponies, and summers on the farm.

Jim joined the Ames Police Force as an officer and later returned to school to study auto mechanics. His hobbies included building and racing stock cars. He owned and operated his own business, Ames Auto Clinic, and became an Auto Mechanics Tech Instructor at Creston Community College, Creston, Iowa and Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton, Oregon. He moved his family out west, where he loved the mountains, hunting, his horses, rodeos, and parades. He bought a farm in the Blue Mountains, outside Weston, Oregon, he called Golden-Green Acres. He was Choir Director at the local Community Church where he was active in the music ministry, and his daughter, Debbie, began singing for church and community events.

Jim divorced in 1972, and later married Diane Nims in 1974, whom he met while attending Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Shortly after, he moved back to Lamoni to work the family farm. He divorced and not one to give up on love, he was remarried to an old school friend, Rose Marie Kaler, in 1981, becoming step-dad to her children, Barbara and Raymond.


Jim returned to Graceland College, completing his BA in Elementary Education in 1983, and taught for the Mormon Trail School District, where Rose Marie also taught kindergarten. Jim volunteered to help young people in the community, where he met a young man he and Rose adopted, Jeffrey, in 1987. Rose passed away after a long battle with Colon Cancer, in 1994. After grieving her passing, Jim was married for a time to Nancy Lee Smith.

Jim loved building things and putting them together. He worked for many years for Steve Anders Crane Service, Lamoni, Iowa, where many structures are up and in place from his steady hand at the controls: The historic Lamoni High School Name Stone, taken down and salvaged to be included in the new school design, the Graceland University pedestrian bridge, Lamoni Elevators repairs, and Business signages to name a few. During years of drought, in the 80s, he and his son, Terry travelled the Midwest with a pumping/irrigation business, helping bring water to distressed farms. His son, Jim, lived with him his Senior year, graduating from Lamoni High and attending Graceland College. His daughter, Debbie, also loved the farm and lived there while attending Graceland.

Jim was an Oregon Trail enthusiast. He had a team of mules and a wagon, which he built from some original parts with the help of his Amish friends. As Wagon Master of the Oxbow Company, he took his mules, wagon and grandson, Joshua, for an experience of a lifetime, An Oregon Trail re-enactment in 1997, traveling 97 days, all the way from Council Bluffs, Iowa to This is the Place State Park, Utah.

Jim always dreamed of having a cabin out west, and in 2006, he sold his farm and moved to Baker City, Oregon, making this come true, where he could live closer to his children. He participated in community events, such as Oregon Trail re-enactments, Miners Day parades, and became a local celebrity, sharing his love of Oregon Trail History.

Jim will long be remembered as someone who had spontaneous enthusiasm and passion for each day, excited for every new thing he could learn. He worked hard every day of his life, persevering and overcoming debilitating, chronic pain from past work injuries and multiple surgeries. He was always trying to do better and be better. His legacy includes his children, whom all have made him so proud and he loved so much. He gave them his music, his zest for life, his unconditional love and acceptance with faith that there is goodness in every one.

Following a trip to the Mayo Clinic, with his daughter, Debbie, in November 2019, he decided quality of life was much more important than quantity of life. Prior to his passing, he enjoyed reconnecting with family and dear ones. He stayed a time with his daughter, Patricia, during an earlier convalescence. His step-daughter, Barb (Roger) Kerns, and her family brought many happy times with family get togethers and outings during his last days.

May God bless him and welcome him into his Heavenly gates. Jim will surely be the Angel watching over us all, pulling a prank or two along the way, with a great big smile.

Jim is survived by his children, daughter Deborah (Richard) Pimentel, of Nampa, Idaho, son James (Lorrie) Silsby of Boise, Idaho, son Terry Silsby of Meridian, Idaho, son Christopher Silsby of Corvallis, Oregon, daughter Patricia Richter of Meridian, Idaho, step-daughter Barb (Roger) Kerns of Lamoni, Iowa, step-son Raymond (Brigit) Kaler of Snohomish, Washington and Jeffrey Silsby of Des Moines, Iowa; sister Junia Clare Braby; brother-in-law, Dr. Howard Braby; sister, Margaret Grice; 25 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews, and friends. His is preceded in death by his wife, Rose Marie; his mother, Thelma; and father, James (Burnham); and brother-in-law, William Grice.

Mr. Silsby was cremated and the interment will be at Rose Hill Cemetery, following a Celebration of Life service, to be scheduled for the summer 2020, and announced at a later time. All are welcome to attend and celebrate Mr. Silsby’s life. In lieu of flowers the family is asking for donations to the Lamoni School District for a fund in Mr. Silsby’s name, to benefit learning programs for children, a way for him to give back to the community he so dearly loved.

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