Remembering Jim DeVries

Family and friends gather to pay tribute to James DeVries (seated, center) in the atrium of the La-Z-Boy Center at Monroe County Community College August 24. (Photo by Vanessa Ray)

Professor emeritus James “Jim” DeVries, who spent 40 years teaching MCCC students about history and the world, died Sept. 13 under the care of the IHM sister’s hospice facility in Monroe.

With his death, MCCC lost a beloved professor, Board of Trustee’s member, mentor, and friend.

Diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia cancer over 15 years ago, DeVries spent much of the last decade beating the odds.

However, it was a recent diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma, a particularly aggressive form of bile-duct cancer, which ultimately proved too much for him to overcome.

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After being told his cancer had spread to a point where chemotherapy and surgery were no longer an option, DeVries began to make plans.

Never one to feel sorry for himself, DeVries chose what he liked to call “a new model for dying,” one where he set the rules.

“Everyone who comes (to the IHM hospice facility) is happy because I’m denoting happiness,” DeVries said. “I’m dying and its OK.”

According to DeVries, it’s been his faith in God which helped him face his diagnosis with dignity.

“You can see I’m at peace,” he said. “And my faith in Jesus Christ has given me that. It’s been one of the most important things in my life.”

Devries also credits his sense of humor and ability to laugh at the direst of situations with keeping him sane.

In fact, it's this comedic nature most people speak of first when talking about DeVries.

“(Jim) does this spot-on Donald Duck impression for every little kid he sees," said History professor Edmund La Clair. “He always does the impression for my little girl and that’s how she knew him for the longest time. He was the ‘Donald Duck man’ before he became ‘Mr. Jim’”

MCCC President Kojo Quartey hugs professor emeritus James DeVries
during a reception to honor his life in the atrium of the La-Z-Boy Center
August 24. (Photo by Vanessa Ray)

The only time the perpetually cheerful professor's voice wavers is when talking about family and friends.

“My dying has brought my family back together,” DeVries said. “It’s been such a beautiful thing to see, and I love them all dearly.”

One of DeVries’s closest confidants these past few years has been MCCC president Kojo Quartey.

“Kojo and I are good friends, you can see it in that picture,” DeVries said while pointing to a photo of Quartey hugging him. “The electricity’s there, you can see it.”

According to those who worked alongside him, DeVries' greatest attributes were his fierce loyalty, commitment to camaraderie, and willingness to play an active role in fighting social injustice 

When Jim retired from teaching 10 years ago, he was not fully on board with a twenty-something La Clair replacing him.

Fortunately for both the men, those feelings did not last long.

For the past eight years. La Clair has called Jim one of his best friends.

“The way our whole friendship started – he was going into the hospital for some routine thing,” La Clair said. “My wife and I made him a couple frozen casseroles so he’d have something to eat when he got out.”

Not long after La Clair found himself in need of support.

“Then my wife at that time got into an accident and was in the hospital for a week,” La Clair said. “And (Jim) came and visited more than anyone else.”

Jim brought flowers for La Clair's wife and presents for his daughter Sophia.

At first, the young professor was a bit taken aback by DeVries’s loyalty and generosity

“What he said was ‘you were there for me when I needed someone and I’m never going to forget a friend.’” La Clair said. “He and I have been friends since.

 “That’s just Jim, he’s easy,” La Clair said. “He’s a very human man, he loves freely and easily at this point in his life.”

When thinking about his legacy, DeVries’ thoughts go back to the MCCC students who, as he put it, “never stopped inspiring” him.

"I think about a student who was told she couldn’t write and I said, 'your teacher lied to you, you can write, you’re outstanding.'" DeVries said. "And that propelled her into being one of the top students."

“I’d like to see a scholarship – a Jim DeVries scholarship or award – for the best critical thinking papers,” Jim said,

Arrangements for Jim DeVries are as follows:

 A memorial service was held at 11 a.m., Monday, September 17.

 A Scholarship is being established at MCCC. In lieu of flowers, donations for this fund may be sent in Jim’s name to the Foundation at MCCC.

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