The Man Who Can't Say No

The word “idleness” is simply not in the vocabulary of Jim Loomis ’84. By George Sapio

“I can honestly say I’ve never known what I wanted to do in life.”

Many people might share such a sentiment. And many might never find the answer.

Jim Loomis ’84, M.S. ’95, may still not know what he wants to be when he “grows up,” but in the meantime he’s been sampling myriad professions, careers, and avocations — becoming master at several.

Jim’s a bundle of energy housed in a calm, well-ordered person. His history as a student, teacher, and staff member with Ithaca College goes all the way back to fall 1963, when he enrolled in the television-radio program and saddled himself with 22 credits in one semester, on top of which he piled a part-time job at a snack bar.

“I did not survive the semester,” he says, shaking his head. “It was not the best decision I ever made.”

He decided to take a leave of absence and, on the not inauspicious date of Friday the 13th of March, 1964, instead joined the Coast Guard as a communications petty officer E5, or radioman. (Jim was no stranger to technical communications, having built his own ham radio and television by the age of 14.) He served first in the Great Lakes on an icebreaker, then transferred to Kodiak, Alaska, as part of a search-and-rescue team.

After his tour he decided to return to Ithaca College. He paid for his education with the cash he’d saved, expecting to be reimbursed by the Veterans Administration, but the check never came (“I’m still waiting for it,” Jim says).

His money ran out, and he was forced to drop out a second time. This time, however, he got a job at Ithaca College on a 10-month contract working in the engineering department of the telecommunications facility.

“It was basically two people at that time,” he says, “Dave Allen and me.” [Dave Allen retired in June 2008 as an engineer in the Park School, after 44 years with Ithaca College.]

Jim picked up his TV-R program again, taking courses part-time, and because of his proven abilities was invited to teach audio editing and production courses. His students included Bill D’Elia ’69, who went on to become an Emmy-nominated major producer-director and was most recently the executive producer of the TV hit show Boston Legal, and Disney CEO Bob Iger ’71.

Since working, teaching, and studying weren’t enough to keep him busy, Jim was also helping develop the TV-R academic curriculum and consulting on the design for Park Hall in its planning stages.

While working full-time, Jim eventually received his bachelor’s degree in TV-R from Ithaca College. It had taken 21 years, but at least he finished before both his sons, Benjamin in 1994 and Chris in 2008. Both sons received the benefit of free tuition, although Chris, like his father, took a hiatus and did not return until he was 25.

Jim decided to continue with his studies and pursued a master’s degree in communications, which he was awarded in 1995. Meanwhile he rose to the position of director of production facilities at IC.

Kevin Michael, who worked with Jim for 15 years in what was then telecommunications facilities (now technical operations), recalls Jim’s abilities to “troubleshoot forward.” He says, “Jim was a pretty far-ahead thinking guy. For example, when they were building Park Hall he was consistently talking with the architects, and convinced them to build a larger foundation in case future expansion was needed.”

Because of his can-do record and his own Boy Scout experience as a youngster, Jim was asked in 1970 to “help out” a troop. He started as an assistant scoutmaster of Van Etten’s Troop 23, and two years later became the sole scoutmaster, building the troop’s roster up to nearly 50 boys. He also served as commissioner with the Louis Agassiz Fuertes Council of the Boy Scouts and earned a Northeast Region II three-bead Wood Badge.

Scheduling conflicts between the Van Etten school system and his scout troop in 1973 led Jim to seek a spot on the Spencer-Van Etten School Board — which he won. He remains a member of the school board, of which he is currently president.

His intense interest in local education and education policy led him to serve as the regional director for the New York State School Boards Association, and he’s now a director-at-large on the board of the Rural Schools Association of New York. He also served for 16 years on the board of GST BOCES (a technical and career education program).

Jim truly cares about his hometown. He met his wife, Virpi, when they were both eighth graders there, and they’ve been best friends ever since. They’d walk home together, and, says Jim, “I would carry her trombone.” Virpi, a former probation officer, is now chair of the Youth and Community Foundation of Spencer–Van Etten’s Seniors Committee.

Jim retired from IC in 2003, but his “retirement” in other areas was short-lived. “Every time I try to retire and go back to my wife’s family home in Finland,” he says, “I get a phone call.”

The first was from the Rural Schools Association. Jim had not only been a founding member but had also served as the organization’s president; this time he was asked to fill in as interim executive director. He did so for a year until a replacement was found.

Then, in 2005, he and Virpi attempted a second retirement to Finland, but the phone rang again. This time it was the Youth and Community Foundation, who asked him to return and serve as administrator for a $2 million grant from the Microsoft Foundation to install computers and software in two new facilities. Jim not only oversaw the installation but taught computer classes and rewrote the existing Microsoft curriculum, originally developed for urban settings, to accommodate rural environments.

Jim is also active politically, working with Finger Lakes Progressives, a group that educates the public about various social issues, and with New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a citizens’ group working for secure and verifiable standards for voting systems and elections. He volunteers with Virpi’s Senior Information  Referral Service, driving for the Meals on Wheels program, escorting seniors on outings, and giving technological help.

Because he is concerned about preserving energy and protecting the environment, Jim researched the most efficient mode of home heating and installed not only photovoltaic cells on the roof of his Van Etten, New York, home, but also a geothermal system, which employs numerous copper rods filled with an eco-friendly refrigerant to convert the earth’s natural energy to heat and cool the house.

At the end of the third winter with the electrical and heating systems in place, Jim estimates his household expenditures for heat to be $40 a month. The system is, in optimum conditions, capable of generating three kilowatts an hour. Average power generation in winter is about one kilowatt an hour.

When asked how he spends his days off from his myriad activities, Loomis looks amused. “I enjoy hiking or ski touring on area trails,” he says. “But it’s funny; as I was acting as chair of the Spencer–Van Etten School District Wellness Committee, the elementary school principal looked over my shoulder at my calendar and noted that I only seem to have three days free in March.”

It seems there isn’t anything that Jim Loomis is incapable of . . . except, perhaps, doing nothing.