After eighty-eight years living in Lake Stevens James B. Mitchell left the town and family he loved. Jim Mitchell passed away at home on Sunday, May 6.
Mitchell left behind his wife Nancy, of 63 years, two sons, Bill and John, and six grandchildren. His first great-grandchild is due any day.
He also left behind a town that he loved and hundreds of people who admired and adored him. (See photos and quotes on page 6.)
“He lived for the town and his family,” his wife Nancy said. “He was family to so many people.”
Mitchell was born in Everett but as soon as it was time to leave the hospital his parents brought him back to Lake Stevens where he was raised. His dad was a Pharmacist in town. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1948 as a Pharmacist himself, Mitchell returned to work in the family business.
He brought with him his new wife, Nancy McDonough, whom he married on October 1, 1948.
Nancy was a city girl who was a little shell-shocked after she moved to this rural community.
“The first time he brought me to Lake Stevens it was pitch black. There were no streetlights. He’d say there’s the lake, there’s where the Coburns live, and so on. I couldn’t see anything,” Nancy said. “Where I came from you could turn a knob and get heat.”
Before Mitchell started his education at the UW, he spent time in the military on a mine sweeping ship.
“He thoroughly enjoyed his time in the service,” Nancy recalled.
When talking to friends at college about where they were from, Jim came to realize how fortunate he was to have been raised in Lake Stevens where he could enjoy being a kid with the beauty of the lake wherever he looked.
“He really enjoyed growing up here as a kid. They would pick and sell periwinkles to the adults and bait their hooks for them to earn money,” Nancy explained. “It was complete freedom as a kid. He always felt a great kinship to the area. It was just a perfect spot.”
Nancy remembers sledding with Jim on the streets of Lake Stevens and not worrying about getting hit by cars because they cars back then couldn’t drive up the hills.
Jim went to school at the Pink Palace and has always been a huge fan of Lake Stevens High School sports.
In 1963 he was awarded “Fan of the Year” an award that was voted on by the students at the high school.
“One of his most appreciated awards was ‘Fan of the Year,’” Nancy said.
Mitchell’s list of awards is long and includes many prestigious awards including JC’s Citizen of the Year, Lion’s Man of the Year, Washington State Pharmacist of the Year, National Community Service Award called Bowl of Hygeia and Lake Stevens Citizen of the Year, Boy Scouts of America’s Eagle of Distinction Award.
He was the founder of many organizations as well, including the Lake Stevens Lions Club, Pioneer Water Skier 6 AM Club and was instrumental in establishing the Lake Stevens Sewer District and served several terms as a Sewer District Commissioner.
“He fought very hard to combine the Sewer District and the city. To accomplish this there needs to be a very high level of trust in the government,” Nancy said. “The lake was getting polluted, the e.coli levels was up.”
Mitchell along with Dr. Robert Hagen worked hard to try to get the community to support a sewer system throughout the city. It didn’t pass the first time.
“There was a lot of opposition,” Nancy said.
Soon the Red Cross stopped giving swimming lessons at Lundeen Park because of the water, which seemed to help open the eyes of many who opposed the sewer system.
"First and foremost, he was a native son of Lake Stevens in the most pure sense. He represented a tie to our past and a bridge to our future. I live daily by many of Jim's sayings: "It's not I or me, it's we.", "KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)", "Johnny Lunch Bucket, the person that matters" and, lastly, our consideration for sound fiscal advice, "Save your money and buy good Whiskey." These little gems as well as others were always able to be broadly applied and good advice. But, more than this , Jim was a person who loved his family and community beyond all else and loved each and every citizen in the community whether or not they all saw eye to eye. He truly believed, as he coined it, in a Unified Community. And nothing proved more how much he love this community than his commitment to the second most important asset it has beyond its people: the lake itself. Jim had a lifelong commitment to the lake, its preservation and its protection. This was actively expressed by action for over 60 years with the help of his beloved Nancy. Their actions are the actions that started true lake protection back in the 1950's and led to the formation of the Sewer District. And Jim became not a legislator who happened to be a Sewer Commissioner, but, rather a Sewer Commissioner who once was a good state legislator. I will always cherish the time, trials, fun and education I received from my good friend Jim Mitchell. I am diminished, we are diminished. I feel a void in my life. A hollowness that, hopefully, my memories can fill. If God smiles on our community, perhaps someone like him will pass our way again. If not, then we did have our times together to use as our example for a life well-lived."
Darwin Smith, Lake Stevens Sewer District
“They brought it back up again and it passed. It was a long road,” she said.
Mitchell served as a State Legislator from Lake Stevens where he was known as a fair lawmaker.
“Many of the legislators said they would always talk to Jim and that he was always willing to work for the good of the people,” Nancy said. “People knew he was an honorable person.”
Mitchell’s love of Lake Stevens has been written and published in the book, “Lake Stevens – My Town” which he wrote in 2004 while recovering from an illness.
“People would ask what the town was like ‘back then’ so when Jim had an aortic aneurysm he was restricted so he started writing,” Nancy said. “He wrote it all by hand on yellow sheets of paper. It was a lot of fun writing the book.”
Mitchell’s family was always his top priority and he always stressed the importance of education to them. Both of his sons and all six of his grandchildren are college graduates.
“He really loved his grandkids and they all knew that their grandfather felt that getting an education was very important.”
In the last few months Mitchell was plagued with small strokes, which took his memories. His kidneys started shutting down. He died peacefully in his sleep.
His legacy will continue through the Sewer District, the Lions Club, American Legion and the Boy Scouts where he and his two sons all earned their Eagle Scout awards but his family are the ones who will truly continue his great legacy with Nancy at the head.