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James R. "Jim" Hoel

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James R. "Jim" Hoel Obituary
Hoel, James Richard "Jim" 92, a lifelong Evanston resident, passed away at 6:00 p.m. on July 20, 2014, at the Presbyterian Home in Evanston. Jim was born on September 2, 1921 in Canby, Minnesota and lived on Grey Street in Evanston throughout his school years. Jim was preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Jean Carver Hoel, who passed away on November 24, 2013 at the age of 91; and by his parents, Omer and Olive; and his brother, David. Jim is survived by three children, Rick and his wife Pam of Bluffton, South Carolina, Gil and his wife Julie of Ontario, Wisconsin and Kim (Creadick) and her husband Chris of Littleton, Colorado; six grandchildren, Jenifer Shaw, Jillian Winters, Timothy Hoel, Jamie Hoel, Chelsea Griffith and Lauren Creadick; and five great-grandchildren, Emma Shaw, Jack Shaw, Kate Shaw, Elliana Hoel and Cayden Griffith. Also surviving Jim is his sister, Milnore Hall; and numerous nieces and nephews. Jim graduated from Evanston High School in 1939 and later that year entered Colgate University. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jim left college and entered the Army Air Force as a Second Lieutenant and bombardier/navigator in a B-26 Marauder. On May 17, 1943, Jim's plane was shot down in Holland on the way to his first bombing mission. Jim was captured and spent the next two years as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III, the POW camp made famous as the site of "The Great Escape", where Jim and other prisoners helped dig the escape tunnels. Following the war, Jim married Jean on December 8, 1945 and together returned to Colgate where Jim graduated in 1947. Jim and Jean returned to Evanston where they remained for the rest of their lives. Jim was first employed in the advertising department of the Chicago Tribune and later entered the nascent television industry, working for WMAQ as Director of Sales until his retirement in 1976. Jim's family and friends remember fondly his brief notoriety as the WMAQ weatherman, filling in during a general broadcasting strike. Following WMAQ, Jim worked at Baird & Warner Real Estate, serving as Vice President and Manager of the Evanston office until 2002. Jim was actively involved in numerous community activities Member and Vice President of the Chicago and Evanston Rotary Clubs, Deacon and Trustee of Northminster Presbyterian Church, Member of the Evanston School Board Caucus, YMCA club and Little League coach and beloved Cotillion partner with daughter Kim. Jim's family and friends fondly remember his love of home life. He was an avid gardener and everyone looked forward to the spectacular array of new colors that came and went throughout the spring, summer and fall. Jim loved working with his hands and the furniture and clocks he built throughout his life will also preserve his memory for all generations to come. In 2003, Jim's life took an emotional turn when he learned that his treasured Gallet Chronometer watch, an enlistment present from his employer, which was lost when his B-26 was shot down, had been found 60 years later. The amazing story quickly spread and with the encouragement of his wife and children, Jim returned to Europe with son Gil to retrace his wartime experiences. It was both a moving and healing journey. He received a hero's welcome by the citizens of Rozenburg, Holland, visited the site where his plane crashed and paid his respects at the cemetery that held the remains of many of his comrades lost on that fateful day in May, 1943. To that point, Jim had spent little time recounting his own incredible story of struggle and ultimate survival. "It's hard," he said, "to think that any one story of a survivor is important enough to tell with all of the white crosses I saw that day, and that I know stand alone today all over the world." The "Gallet Watch" experience opened a door and Jim spent the next years sharing his story with transfixed members of younger generations at church and community gatherings and with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren's school classes. Jim was loved by everyone who met him and though his story was one of heroism, he always shared it with utmost humility. In August 2012, Jim and his watch were honored as part of the "Enlisting Time" exhibit at the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania along with other military leaders and their famous timepieces, including George Washington and Harry Truman. Following Jim's "reunion" with his watch, he began to gather with three of his "roommates" in Stalag Luft III. For a period of time, the group met annually until health problems prevented travel. Two of the men passed away a number of years ago and in 2009 Jim's good friend, Judge Anthony Alaimo, a well respected Federal Judge in Brunswick, Georgia, passed away. Jim wrote to his children shortly thereafter, expressing how close he had been with these friends. "Now I am the last one," Jim wrote. Jim is now gone as well but none will ever be forgotten. Those who knew Jim and Jean best will remember their lives as a true 20th century love story. For weeks prior to Jean's death 8 months ago, Jim, with tears in his eyes, told Jean to always remember "the summer of '45". Fresh from War's horrific experiences, Jim and Jean fell deeply in love soon after Jim returned and were married in December of that year. It became clear to all that Jim's deepest desire during the past months had been to join his true love. This December Jim and Jean will have been married for 69 years and they will be together again. In Celebration of Jim's life, in lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the Geneva Foundation at the Presbyterian Home - http://www.presbyterianhomes.org/geneva-foundation.
Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication from Aug. 7 to Aug. 13, 2014
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