Publisher, Carroll business leader James B. Wilson passes
Peers say third-generation newspaperman pivotal in last 40 years of progress in west-central Iowa
June 4, 2013
What others are saying...
"Jim was a very bright man. He was also extraordinarily well read. It was great fun to sit down and talk politics with him or history. He had a marvelous library and he read voraciously. He was an interesting man to be around and I'll miss him."
~ Art Neu, former Iowa lieutenant governor
"Let's face it, the power of the pen has got some wallop. Jim used it not to his advantage, but the advantage of his community and for the welfare of others."
~ Ron Schechtman, former Carroll mayor, retired judge
"Somebody once said you know you had a good life if you leave things better off than you found them. To me, I think Carroll is certainly better off because Jim Wilson lived here."
~ Pat Moehn, chairman, Commercial Savings Bank
James B. Wilson, 69, publisher of The Carroll Daily Times Herald for the past 36 years and a prominent western Iowa economic development advocate involved in a half-century sweep of projects and initiatives in Carroll County, died Monday afternoon at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll from congestive heart and kidney failure.
A Carroll native, Wilson took over publishing responsibilities in 1977 following the death of his father and quickly established himself as a voice with statewide reach for progress in Carroll.
Like his father, James W. Wilson, the younger Wilson, working closely with a talented collection of peers, played a pivotal role in community affairs, including the recruitment and growth of many companies in Carroll's thriving eastern business corridor.
Wilson, who served as vice president of the Carroll Area Development Corp., built the business relationships that led Delavan Manufacturing (Goodrich Corp.) to Carroll; helped negotiate the agreement between Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Northern Iowa bringing four-year university programs to Carroll; served on the St. Anthony Regional Hospital Foundation Board during much of the recent development of that institution; led a delegation to Washington, D.C., in 1974 to successfully lobby for federal funding for the construction of the Carroll Recreation Center; and as vice president of the Carroll Country Club, helped develop the course into an 18-hole facility.
"He was one of Carroll's great ambassadors," said Ron Schechtman, a former mayor of Carroll and retired chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District. "He sold Carroll wherever he went and he knew a lot people. Let's face it, the power of the pen has got some wallop. Jim used it not to his advantage, but the advantage of his community and for the welfare of others."
Schechtman said Wilson's impact stretched across a wide swath of life in Carroll - from improved health care to commercial development to education to charity.
"He really kind of hit a four-bagger," Schechtman said. "He was a very unselfish guy and one hell of a lot of fun, too."
Born Aug. 26, 1943, a son of James W. and Constance Wilson, James B. Wilson starred for the Carroll High Tigers basketball team and played his way to a state high school golf championship in 1961, the year he graduated from CHS. Wilson attended the University of Missouri, his father's alma mater, and the University of Arizona before graduating from the University of Iowa with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
In his early 20s, Wilson worked for the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Beck, a Centerville newspaper publisher who would lose a primary to eventual Gov. Robert Ray. A lifelong Republican, Wilson in the 1990s served on the military academy selection committee for U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Clive.
A talented golfer with a picturesque swing, Wilson qualified for the PGA Tour's Tucson Open in 1963, played in the Canadian Open Pro-Am and captured the triple crown on the links locally in winning the Carroll Men's City Championship, The Carroll Country Club Championship and the Carroll Municipal Championship.
Wilson considered a professional career in golf but opted for life as a third-generation newspaperman. The Carroll Daily Times Herald has been in the Wilson family since 1929. Wilson's grandfather, Silas, served as editor of the Albia Union-Republican.
Wilson, named the Carroll Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for 1989, established The Daily Times Herald's Extra Effort Fund, which has raised nearly $400,000 for the less fortunate in the Carroll area over the past 24 years. He served as president of the Bill Evans Foundation for Kids, which continues to assist needy young people in the Carroll area in honor of former Carroll educator Bill Evans, a longtime Wilson friend.
Additionally, Wilson served on the DMACC Foundation Board, the Carroll County Ambulance Board, the Carroll Planning and Zoning Commission and Carroll Chamber of Commerce Board.
Early in life, Wilson forged strong ties that would blossom later into collaborative community-betterment efforts.
"We've known each other all of our lives," said Pat Moehn, chairman of Commercial Savings Bank. "Gosh, I remember shooting hoops with Jim when we were kids. When we were in grade school and high school in the summertimes we'd play an awful lot of golf together."
"He always kind of upset me because he was just better in golf than I was," Moehn joked. "But he was better than a lot of people. You could tell by the number of championships he won and so forth. After a while, it gets a little tiring getting beat all the time, but I put up with it. It didn't affect our friendship."
Moehn, a Kuemper Catholic High School alum, said his friendship with Wilson became vital during the farm crisis of the 1980s as the two were part of a vanguard of business leaders in Carroll who aggressively recruited new companies, pursued the diversified mix of business that makes up the current commercial corridor.
"The Carroll Area Development Corporation came about in the 1980s when we were in the midst of the farm crisis," Moehn said. "During that time land prices were falling. Bean prices and corn prices were down. Livestock prices were down. It was pretty bad. It really came home to roost how dependent the Carroll economy was on agriculture."
Moehn said the commercial-development efforts came at a make-or-break time in Carroll's history.
"People were leaving Carroll by the carloads," Moehn said. "Families who had been here three generations, four generations of people, had to pull up stakes and leave Carroll because they lost their businesses or their jobs. It was really not a good situation. It was kind of scary."
The team effort to rally Carroll with new employers and first-rate amenities to attract employees - seen as bold at the time - worked.
Today, Carroll County's unemployment rate of 3.3 percent ranks as the second-lowest of Iowa's 99 counties, trailing only Lyon County in the far northwest corner of the state with 3.1 percent.
"Jim was a founding member of Carroll Area Development Corporation in 1985 and was named Board Member Emeritus in 2010," said Jim Gossett, executive director of the CADC. "His contribution to CADC knows no equal. He challenged everyone to make Carroll better. His deeds speak for his commitment. Jim Wilson was a community booster in the purest sense."
Moehn said Wilson had a mission of making Carroll a better place.
"Somebody once said you know you had a good life if you leave things better off than you found them," Moehn said. "To me, I think Carroll is certainly better off because Jim Wilson lived here."
In his final days at St. Anthony, a steady stream of close friends visited Wilson. They recalled good times, golf matches, trips to football games - particularly Iowa Hawkeye contests as Wilson was a serious Iowa fan. But the conversations always snapped from laughs to the business of Carroll, how it is progressing, what lies ahead.
John Norgaard, the former president of Farner-Bocken, described Wilson as an extraordinary friend and champion for Carroll, fierce in his loyalty to both.
"This loss is, of course, painfully personal as Jim was like a brother to me," Norgaard said. "But it's a difficult day for Carroll, too, for people who know Jim and those who don't, as Jim involved himself in so much, day by day, year by year, to make Carroll what it is today. His reach and impact are just staggering. It's a good thing you own a lot of ink and paper to chronicle all of Jim's contributions."
Art Neu, a former lieutenant governor and Carroll mayor, said Wilson lived his life with Carroll as a priority.
"Jim loved this area and Carroll and the area around it," said Neu, a longtime Wilson friend. "He was always involved, and the paper always supported the urban-renewal projects, the streetscape. And he really was involved big-time in Des Moines Area Community College. Once we got the campus here, he spent an inordinate amount of time improving it."
Neu traveled extensively with Wilson on economic-development matters - most notably for DMACC and St. Anthony.
"Jim was a very bright man," Neu said. "He was also extraordinarily well read. It was great fun to sit down and talk politics with him or history. He had a marvelous library, and he read voraciously. He was an interesting man to be around and I'll miss him."
Wilson read at least one book on every American president and built a vast collection of biographies on political figures and business leaders. He rarely read fiction, and regularly joked to family members that the last movie he saw was "Gone With the Wind."
Schechtman noted that Wilson read several newspapers daily.
Wilson read the Wall Street Journal, The Des Moines Register, USA Today and Omaha World-Herald each morning, Later in the day, he would read his own paper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette and Chicago Tribune.
"It was astounding," Schechtman said.
Schechtman, who knew Wilson since the late 1950s, said the newspaperman - a Republican Methodist - followed in the tradition of his father in holding many beliefs contrary to the popular lines of their times.
"They were in a minority as far their faith was concerned," Schechtman said. "For a long period of time, probably not true now, they were also in the minority as to their political persuasions. But you would never know it in their reporting or the way they lived their lives. They were very fair, impartial and accepted everyone and did no favors because of one reason or another. They were good newspaper people."