My father, James Ivan Jennings, was born July 31, 1924 in Custer, South Dakota to Fred and Minerva Jennings, one of six children. He passed away last Monday after almost 88 years of adventure.
While everyone might have different stories about my Dad, there are three things on which everyone can agree:
1. He loved God and served Him faithfully.
2. He loved his family with all his heart.
3. He had itchy feet – he always wanted to be on the go. Whether it was due to going to where the work was, going to the mission field, or just getting out of Alaska for the winter, Dad always loved heading out somewhere.
One of my favorite stories he’d tell us was about the time when he was a boy and his family moved from South Dakota to Nebraska, about 400 miles. That’s just a day’s drive, except at that time they didn’t have a car – they made the trip in a horse-drawn wagon, making about 20 miles a day. Maybe those early experiences of seeing what was over the next hill kindled his lifelong wanderlust.
As a young man Dad lived on Vashon Island in Washington and when World War II broke out he joined the US Coast Guard at age 18. He served on the USS Cambria and the USS Leonard Wood as a Fireman First Class. Dad saw action in Guam and the Philippines and also served in the Pacific Theater. He served until February 1946 and tales of his experiences thrilled us kids in later years.
After serving in the military he married June Landers and had four sons, including one who died as a toddler. When the marriage ended he hit the mission field in the Virgin Islands for several years and then ended up back on Vashon Island where he married Bonnie Lemon and adopted her two children. Mom and Dad went on to have three more kids, for a total of 8 when you counted hers, his, and theirs, and were married for 51 years.
Dad worked as a contractor in the construction field which meant more moving around, because you had to go to where the work was. At one point the family lived on a converted city bus and traveled with Dad from job site to job site. The family even took that bus on a road trip one summer from Texas to Wisconsin, over to Washington, and back to Texas. Another time it was a trip down to Oaxaca, Mexico. Some of our favorite memories are from that time with the bus, and it could be where some of us kids picked up our own itchy feet.
Even though Dad made his living building houses, at heart he was a preacher. Wherever we’d go Dad would end up preaching at one church after another. He and Mom even decided to start a church on an island in Central America and had the family loaded up to go when he was offered the assistant pastor position in Alice, Texas.
During the three years living in Alice, Mom and Dad read books about Alaska and decided to head north. Dad bought a little sporty car with bucket seats and loaded up he and Mom, five kids, a dog, and as much other stuff as possible and headed north.
Not even a busted axle in Whitehorse could stop him from reaching Alaska. That poor overworked car never made it, but the family did with the help of some “friends of a friend” who drove into Canada and rescued them.
Dad continued to work construction in Alaska, including working on the pipeline. But he always wanted to preach and after hitting retirement age he made several mission trips overseas with his brother Ray. He traveled to Africa, Romania, Poland, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Switzerland and France. He loved to do Bible studies and reading while at home between those trips.
Even though Dad started doing more traveling when he hit retirement age, he never really retired. On Dad’s 78th birthday, Mom delivered a lunch to him at a job site in Sutton. She found him atop some scaffolding wearing his hard hat and tool belt, busily working on an addition to a house!
And even as late as last year he’d load up his van with potted plants and sell them at the local Farmer’s Market or along the roadside.
Dad was always active – working, traveling the world, or celebrating every birthday or anniversary in his big family. He never “acted old” like you’d think an 80-something year old man would. It wasn’t until this last year that he finally slowed down.
We were looking forward to celebrating his 88th birthday with him this next week and we’ll remember him as a man who greatly enjoyed his 8 children, 18 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, and 1 great great grandchild.
He died at home with his family and no medical assistance, which is how he wanted it. He had faith in a good and loving God with whom he longed to be.
James Ivan Jennings is survived by his wife Bonnie of Wasilla, AK; his sons Jim Jennings Jr. of Moses Lake, WA., Paul Jennings of Delta Junction, AK; Sam Jennings of Spokane, WA.; Jay Jennings of Wasilla, AK, and Ray Jennings of Anchorage, AK. He is also survived by his daughters Lianne Schwartz of Wasilla, AK, and Mariella Kruger of Palmer, AK, and a host of dear family and friends. He was preceded in death by his sons Daniel Jennings in 1951 and Nick Jennings in 1990.