Jim DePriest, treasurer of the Norwood Area Historical Society and citizen of Norwood, passed away in January of 2015. Jim was a constant presence in the community, often seen walking the roads, or attending township meetings. Since his arrival in the northlands, he freely shared his skills, knowledge and expertise with the Society, serving not only as our reliable and competent treasurer, but also as a member dedicated to bringing the Society’s goals into fruition. In time, we came to realize what a special individual was amongst us.
Jim graduated from Utley High School in Flint as valedictorian of his class. He was a pitcher and captain of the baseball team but his real passion in high school and for many years after was pheasant hunting. At General Motors Institute he earned his degree in mechanical engineering through a work/study program at Chevrolet Flint Manufacturing where his father, Russell, also worked. In the mid-80s Jim and his wife Jackie moved to Orchard Park, NY where Jim was the Superintendent of Production Engineering at the Chevrolet Tonawanda plant until his retirement.
Jim and Jackie wanted to retire to northern Michigan and they found the perfect spot along Lakeshore Drive below the village of Norwood to build a timber frame retirement home that would be large enough to accommodate visits from all 6 sons and their ever-expanding families. Their son Mitch, an architect, designed the home and Jim built a scale model. The design appealed to two of Jim’s passions – engineering and wood. He loved the hammer beam truss configuration and the beauty of wood using northern white pine timbers from the Upper Peninsula. Construction began early in 1992 and Jim and Jackie watched it grow from a nearby tent that summer. They took daily walks the length of Lakeshore, and up into the village to buy the newspaper from a vending box meeting their neighbors along the way. NAHS member and son Russ DePriest said, “They hosted the entire family for Christmas in 1992 – a scene repeated every other year since. Summer reunions and Christmas celebrations at the lake house were occasions the entire family looked forward to. The more the merrier was always the rule – the basement floor covered with kids in sleeping bags is a happy memory for all of us.”
In the fall of 1994, the Norwood Area Historical Society was founded with a start-up grant from Norwood Township and was given the use of the township hall for a meeting place. The DePriests joined the Norwood Area Historical Society in the mid-1990s and worked on building the large accordion-style historic photo display boards that are still on display in the township hall today. They participated in society ice cream socials and other fund-raising events and within a couple of years Jim became the NAHS treasurer, a post he held for nearly twenty years. Jim also attended most meetings of the township board and served four two-year terms as a member of the Norwood Township Board of Review from 1998-2005.
By 2004 the treasury of the historical society had grown from ten years of fund-raising projects. With the help of a generous anonymous donor, an opportunity to buy the schoolhouse from the Methodist Church was successfully pursued. While the building was sound, it was in need of many repairs, including a new roof and the shoring up of the basement foundation stones. Woodworking was always an interest of Jim’s and in his new home he established a shop in the basement where he crafted furniture. There he restored the Victorian-style gingerbread trim for the school’s cupola and upper roof and duplicated the building’s identification lettering: “Norwood District 1 1890”. The school’s original timeworn wooden sign now hangs inside over the door to the main meeting room. In following years his shop produced the society sign and the covered notice display board in the planter near the front door, as well as the much sought-after wooden picture frames for NAHS auctions.
In 2005 a Facilities Committee formed to tackle the work projects for the newly acquired building, and while most of the membership donated several hours, Jim DePriest, Don Binns, and Jack Costolo, who became known as “the three amigos”, devoted over 1000 hours to restoration projects in the headquarters from 2005-2009. Together they accomplished the following: in the basement they installed five main-bean jack posts, new windows and painted the walls; outside they built and installed the north access ramp with overhead lighting as well as a new door and lock, drainage tile along the east wall, and a brick-paver walk along the west side; around the building they spread landscaping rock and planted bushes; inside they spackled and painted twelve new windows. Jack said, “Between Jim and Don, any maintenance problem encountered, could be solved”.
Jim served on many of the Society’s committees throughout the years including the Outfitters Committee that made replacement selections for the renovated schoolhouse that now serves as its headquarters. He dealt with the electrical, pump and water-testing contractors and along with the “amigos” winterized the building each fall, reversing the steps in spring. Throughout the winter of 2010-11, the three again worked daily for several weeks with contractor John Pearl during the interior renovation, helping to gut the interior of the schoolhouse, by removing walls, cabinets, fixtures and wall paneling. They installed a new kitchen and painted all the trim and restored wainscoting. Jim was the type of person you could always count on. He would recognize a problem, come up with a solution, and just get the job done, without a lot of fanfare.
Jim’s time in Norwood parallels that of our society and we will benefit for years from his many skills, contributions and quiet leadership. During his professional career, Jim was active in the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and was chairman of the Flint chapter. After retiring he enjoyed the GM Retirees club in northern Michigan. Son Russ added, “More than any other group though, Jim identified and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Historical Society. He and Jackie have made some of their most lasting friendships through participation in that group.”
Jim’s dedication, diligence, and service to the Society were exemplary. He approached every project with enthusiasm and integrity. Nothing was worth doing if not done to the highest standard. When you worked alongside Jim, you knew you would have accomplished something worthwhile. He will be greatly missed and kindly remembered.
The DePriest family designated that contributions in Jim’s memory may be made to the Norwood Area Historical Society, P.O. Box 595, Charlevoix, MI 49720.by Nancy Cleland and Pam Gnodtke