Life Story Service
Life Story Reception
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
5:00 PM to 6:30 PM EST
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Where food, drinks, and stories will be shared.
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Wounded Warriors Family Support
11218 John Galt Boulevard, Ste 103
Omaha, NE 68137
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Hardworking, honest, and compassionate, James McKinney III, lived a life rich in faith and family. Jim was clever and inventive, helpful and kind, loving and persevering. He navigated life with a “can-do” attitude and led with his heart in all things. Whether inventing a clever solution to a problem, teaching and encouraging others, or sharing a welcoming smile with a stranger, Jim proved an inspiration to all who were blessed to know him. A wonderful husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend, Jim will long be remembered and so very missed.
1946 found people around the world expecting a better life than before the war years and the Great Depression. As the Baby Boomer years began, American prosperity grew like never before in our history; hope sprang eternal. The United Nations and UNICEF were created, the BBC returned to the airways, the first programmable electronic computer was unveiled, and Tupperware was first introduced to U.S. consumers. Nowhere was there more hope for the future than in the McKinney home as they welcomed their son James on December 30, his mother’s 25th birthday.
A quiet and shy boy, Jim grew up in Franklin, Michigan, after the family moved there when he was eight. Jim’s sister Jan was 14 months older, and they had 3 younger brothers, Tommy, Bob, and Bill. Jim’s father was the principal of Wayne County Juvenile Detention School, and his mother was an elementary school librarian. They built a home on a high hill which proved to be just perfect for sledding every day in the winter.
Having been raised by his parents to be honest, responsible, and kind, it is no wonder that Jim was known as a defender of the weaker kids in grade school. In time, he started breaking out of his quiet shell. During apple season, he and his sister Jan would each pick up a quart of cider and a bag of fresh donuts for 25 cents at The Franklin Cider Mill to eat while walking home from school. He often teased Jan for dancing around the house. Little did he know then, he’d come to love dancing and even teach it! A natural athlete and fast runner, Jim played football, ran track, and wrestled in high school. His true passion though was water and snow skiing, which he continued enjoying until he was 65.
After graduating from Groves High School in 1965, Jim’s path took many turns as he advanced through his career. He served as a professional relationship representative for Michigan Blue Shield. He developed computer software for physician and clinical insurance billing. For a time, he worked as a medical consultant to major healthcare consortiums. As his knowledge and success grew, so did his positions. Chief Financial Officer for a metal manufacturing facility and Compensation Administrator for Bronson Hospital were two of his final positions. Perhaps the most fun and rewarding for Jim though, was the home improvement business which he started. Nothing brought Jim greater satisfaction than creating something useful, sometimes even out of something that was thought to be junk.
While returning to college later in life, he became the President of The WMU Beta Gamma Sigma local chapter, a top-ranked international business college honor society, and won six awards for his academic work in the business management program. Graduating from Western Michigan University with his degree in 1997 was one of his proudest days.
For many years, Jim was a single parent of his two daughters and son. Nancy, Christina, and Tyler were the centers of his world. As their dad, Jim always had the answer for most of their questions, often delivered with a sharp and odd sense of humor. Jim taught his daughters to play softball and coached their teams. He attended all of his son’s softball and soccer games. Sharing his passion for creating things, Jim and his kids built bike ramps, tree forts, and made Halloween costumes together. Of course, he taught his kids to waterski at a young age as well. He closely followed his kids in their sports endeavors and even developed a ski club for his son’s elementary school.
While out at the Cheek-to-Cheek dance club one night, Jim had the good fortune of meeting a young woman, Patricia Holton. Hardly anyone was at the club that night, and Pat approached Jim. She was really cute, confident, and educated (she had earned a Ph.D). They shared a couple of dances and went on their way not thinking much more about the night. Several months later, wanting to learn to dance, Jim returned to the club hoping to find Pat. This time, it was crowded, but Jim was determined and found her. To his surprise, Pat remembered him, the warmth of his hands on her back, and his humor. She taught him to dance, and they’ve been dancing together ever since.
Many terrific memories were made while ballroom and social dancing. Jim eventually developed his own unique teaching style. With great passion, Jim taught social ballroom dancing for over twenty years and taught singles dances at Cheek-to-Cheek and the Lincoln Country Club in Grand Rapids for many years as well. He served as vice president of the USA Dance Club in Kalamazoo. Speaking in front of groups came easily to Jim, whether instructing or just entertaining people. He was known to crack jokes or imitate Donald Duck to help people feel more comfortable. Once, while teaching a group dance lesson, a bug crawled along the dance floor between him and his students. When a dancer pointed it out, Jim picked it up and pretended to eat it, inspiring instant squeals of laughter.
Those who knew him best were witness to Jim’s inventiveness. He relished engineering challenges, fixing or building something he had never done before. He cut two wrecked vehicles in half to create one drivable vehicle. The new merged vehicle worked so well, he repeated the process two more times. He also built a starting gate car with 18-foot swing gates on each side for harness racing. There was truly no limit to Jim’s creativity.
Jim treasured tradition, especially family holiday dinners and snow skiing with his son out west and in Canada. For numerous years, he and Pat celebrated New Year's Eve by getting dressed up and dancing until midnight with close friends. His favorite music was sung by Elvis, Lucy Thomas, and the Righteous Brothers, and he firmly believed in his favorite quote: “That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly.”
While Jim enjoyed a Hawaiian pizza and beer or prime rib and lobster, nothing brought him greater pleasure than his family. He was so proud to share in his children’s endeavors and especially honored to be the minister at his son’s wedding. Jim loved being a grandpa several times over. His grandchildren were his heart’s delight, and he was very excited that his seventh granddaughter is due in May, as well as his first great-granddaughter.
As we celebrate Jim’s life, may we find much comfort in our many treasured memories and in the honor of carrying his loving legacy forward. Whenever we give of our time and talent in service of others, cheer on our loved one’s endeavors, enjoy a silly joke, confidently meet a challenge, or dance with our beloved, we celebrate the countless ways Jim made the world a better place. In this way, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.
James McKinney of Portage, age 77, died on January 19, 2024. He is preceded in death by his brother, Thomas McKinney. Surviving are his wife, Patricia; children: Nancy Molnar, Christina (Dave) McKinney-Wilhelm, and Tyler (Ashley) McKinney; 6 granddaughters; 1 grandson; plus 1 granddaughter, and 1 great-granddaughter on the way; and siblings: Jan (Larry) Kraemer, Bob (Marye) McKinney, and Bill (Debbie Brown) McKinney.
Please join us at a Life Story Service on Tuesday, January 30th, at 4 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. A reception will follow in the Life Story Center, where food, drinks, and stories will be shared. Please visit Jim’s webpage at BetzerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, or sign his guestbook. Memorial donations to Tunnel for Towers Foundation or Wounded Warriors Family Support.