Growing up, I was very fortunate to have aunts and uncles who helped create some of my best childhood memories.
- Aunt Patty never failed to send me a card on my birthday. It taught me the importance of small gestures.
- Aunt Jackie always took me swimming in grade school and when I was a teenager had me babysit her four kids. Would you believe her adult children still talk about those good times?
- On the weekends, I’d spend the night with my Aunt Linda who taught me how to make dill pickle and cream cheese dip — a dish I still make today!
- My Uncle Larry and Aunt Dickie both lived away but that didn’t stop me from visiting him in California and her in Virginia, Florida and London, England. I’d see them during the holidays as well.
- And then there’s my Uncle Jimmy. Growing up, his family lived on the same street as I did. And I remember many walks down to his house when I was a little boy.
Uncle Jimmy was like a big kid. He would keep you entertained and was always right in the middle of all the action, whether it was playing a game of Wiffle ball or board games with all the kids. And he always made sure everyone was included. When my Uncle Jimmy and his family moved to a new house across town, I was devastated. At the time, little did I realize it was only a 10-15 drive from our house which I later discovered when I bought a moped at age 14. I would ride over to his house often to visit.
He sold insurance his entire life and eventually opened his own agency, Voit-Lee Insurance. He was my one and only insurance agent until he retired and responsibilities were passed to his daughter, my cousin, Laura.
Uncle Jimmy was always visiting and dropping things off at our house. Without fail, every time I answered the door he’d say, “Hey sport,” and act like he was going to punch me in the stomach. He knew how to get a smile out of me.
He passed away over the summer and it was a devastating loss for everyone. He left behind his loving wife Agnes, their three children Rick, Laura and Trudy, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was 83 years old.
My uncle was very involved with his church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany, IN. He also coached Little League and Babe Ruth baseball, and served as athletic director and a coach at his parish. He was also a dedicated volunteer for more than 30 years and was honored with many community awards.
For some time, I’ve wanted to write a blog tribute to honor my Uncle Jimmy but never thought I could do him justice. Then an idea popped into my head. Why not have each of his siblings share their favorite story or some other fond memory.
DONNA: He was always my protector. When I was in the first grade and Jimmy was in the third grade, there was this silly little boy who always wore a cowboy hat that liked me. He would chase me around and try to kiss me but I wouldn’t kiss him because I didn’t like him. One day I heard he was going to get me after school so I ran down the basement steps at the school hoping to escape. But the door at the bottom of the stairs was locked! He had me cornered down there and tried to kiss me. Then I heard Jimmy yelling, “Donna, Donna” and I hollered “I’m down here!” I began to cry and Jimmy came running down the steps and told me to get up the stairs. I don’t know what he did but he came up later and said, “He won’t ever bother you again.” He did that several times over the years so nobody ever bothered me. I’d say, “I’ll get my big brother after you” so everyone left me alone.” There was another time I was in the senior class play. We had play practice later at night when my dad was already in bed; he worked early. He always said it wasn’t safe for a girl out at night walking alone so he was unable to come and get me. Instead, he sent Jimmy. After practice one evening, I came walking out and passed two guys sitting on a stoop. They started saying, “Hey honey, hey sweetie pie…” It just so happened Jimmy and his friend Joe were also waiting outside for me. When Jimmy heard what these two guys were saying he went up to them and said “Don’t you talk to my sister like that” and they all got into a brawl. I got the heck out of there and ended up walking home by myself!
LARRY: When we were kids Jimmy and I shared a room. We knew all the programs on the radio because we never had a television. So at night we’d sit there eating crackers and mustard and listen to shows like Boston Blackie, Mr. and Mrs. North, the Fat Man, Suspense, and the Lone Ranger. You used your imagination by listening. When I was like 9 or 10, he would throw me the football. If I touched it and missed it, he would beat me up, so I got to where I never missed it. That’s why I played for New Albany High School. He was my mentor and taught me how to play. He also taught me how to swim in Silver Creek. He threw me in and said, “Swim or drown!” That’s the way we did it. Unlike kids today, we didn’t have any toys so we had to be creative. We made big puppet shows and I helped Jimmy build a soap box derby racer from parts we got from our Grandpa Snapp’s junk yard. Our first basketball goal was made out of a coat hanger with white string and the basketball was made from aluminum cans we taped together. We played for hours. He was like a father figure and kept me entertained. He nicknamed me Lock after the fastest plane in the Air Force because I was so fast. He loved airplanes and eventually enlisted in the Air Force. He took pictures of the bombing raids during the Korean War. He and I both enlisted in the military and left home at 18. He was a good brother. And he saved my life once. I was kind of small and skinny — I had to wear suspenders to hold my pants up. I was also anemic. The doc put me on a bottle of beer a day to help me gain weight. Anyway, it rained really heavy one time and a neighborhood kid grabbed me and held me under two feet of water. He was bigger than me so I was helpless and couldn’t get up. Thankfully, my big brother came to my rescue.
PATTY: When I was about 8 or 9 years old I remember Jimmy decorating the Christmas tree in the front room. Mother always had him set up the village underneath the tree for us girls. I remember all of us lying on the floor watching him. He put a cigarette in the train engine so it would smoke as the train went around the track. And he would make train sounds. We were in awe. But I remember this tingly feeling on my legs, which began to itch. As it turns out, some of the angel hair from the tree had gotten on the floor and we were all laying in it. But none of us said anything because we would have missed the Jimmy show! He was so wonderful about doing stuff. He was like a second dad to me. He even let me drive his car when I got my driver’s license. Growing up, he always had my back. My mother brought me there as an infant and I immediately became part of the family. He’d say no one was ever going to take me away or hurt me. And he always made sure I never got a spanking. I called him Mamie as a little girl before I started calling him Jimmy. Over the years, he always used to tell me, “I don’t know what I would have done had you and your mother not come into our life.”
DICKIE: My first memory of Jimmy is of him tossing us up in the air. He convinced me I could fly, so I really kind of thought I could! In later years, I thought it was remarkable his granddaughter Nikki actually did fly when she played Peter Pan in her high school performance. I thought, “Man, he succeeded. He actually did teach someone to fly!” He also helped prepare us for life. I remember him saying that if you fall you just get right back up and go on. He would always hug you and reassure you that things were going to be ok. I remember how handsome he was, especially when he was in the service. And it always impressed me that he was such a hard worker. I can remember him working two jobs and working a lot on the road when he was in insurance. He definitely had perseverance. Something else funny I remember about Jimmy is… you know how adults sometimes let you win. Well, Jimmy never let you win. If you won, you won it fair and square. I idolized him as a big brother. He was always very kind and I always felt proud of Jimmy because of his success. He was awarded the St. John Boscoe Medal in 1976 which was such an honor yet he wasn’t going to tell anyone about it. He was so humble and thought of himself as an ordinary guy. I thought it was endearing that people still called him Jimmy at 83 years old. I have always associated him with flying. In fact, he had such a love for it that for his 80th birthday, the girls and I gave him one of those Dream Flights.
LINDA: What immediately comes to mind when I think of Jimmy is how dedicated he was. He came by to see Daddy every day. He would stop and have coffee with him. Daddy would buy special buttermilk because Jimmy wouldn’t buy buttermilk at home. So Daddy always had buttermilk waiting for him in the refrigerator. It was always funny to hear Mother say, “Do you want a cup of coffee?” and he’d say, “Well, do you have buttermilk?” He would come by, maybe not every day, but he would be by the house four or five times during the week. If he stopped by early in the morning he would have coffee. If he stopped in the afternoons after work he would have the buttermilk. He and Daddy would sit there and catch up. If Daddy had any questions about an insurance bill or anything, Jimmy would take care of it. Daddy was the type of person as soon as he got a bill in the mail he would pay it. But Jimmy would always say to him, “Dad, you can’t pay this medical bill right away because insurance is going to take care of it.” Looking back, those visits meant an awful lot to Daddy.
JACKIE: I don’t have a lot of memories of him as a child because he was already married and gone. But when my kids were in CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports, he was so dedicated and gave so much of his time and energy to run that whole program at Providence High School. Well, there was a controversy over cheerleading once and some woman from his parish was lambasting him, claiming he hated cheerleaders and wasn’t being fair. She obviously didn’t know Jimmy because he was so fair and honest about everything. I allowed her to go on and on until finally she asked, “Do you know that Jim Lee?” And I smiled and said, “Yes, he’s my big brother.” The woman could have fallen down. She didn’t have a clue we were related because of our age difference. I, of course, told him the story and he got a big kick out of it. I also remember when we would have photos of the brothers and sisters taken, he’d always say, “Alpha and Omega” because he was the oldest and I was the youngest. It always made me laugh. I was so proud of him being my big brother.
We all miss Jimmy; we always will.