TORRANCE, Calif. – E. "Nelson" James, 93, long time resident of DeKalb, Ill., passed away Feb. 19, 2013, in Torrance, Calif.
Nelson was to all who knew him a gentleman, gentle man, humanitarian, distinguished scholar, theater expert, veteran, friend, man of faith and loving family man.
Born Aug. 31, 1919, in Chicago, to Eugenia and Charles James, he developed his love for learning and the theater at an early age. A graduate of Morton High School, he obtained his undergraduate and master's degrees in English from The University of Chicago. Interrupted in his studies and dreams of a life in the theater by World War II
, he served his country on Iwo Jima – an experience that taught him the value of peace.
He started teaching in the English Department at Northern Illinois State Teacher's College (Northern Illinois University) in 1948 as the 17th and 18th Century (English Restoration) Theater specialist. He got his doctorate from The University of Iowa
while teaching in DeKalb. His doctoral work on "The Development of George Farquhar as a Comic Dramatist" is used by many theater companies when producing Farquhar's plays, including The Royal Shakespeare Company. Beloved by his students over the years, he was devoted to them. His contributions to Sigma Tau Delta, the international honorary society of students of the English language and literature, will always be remembered. The scholarship started in his name honoring his service as its national secretary has supported the education of students for more than two decades. He continued to teach after his retirement, focusing on teaching English to DeKalb's newest citizens. For this and many other contributions to this community, he was given the Northern Illinois University Humanitarian Award in 1987.
Nelson loved the theater and contributed to it as an actor, a playwright, a director, a critic and an avid theatergoer. A much lauded member of The Stage Coach Players, he will be remembered for his many contributions there. His works as a playwright have been produced in many theaters, including The Goodman. He was particularly proud of "Lurewell and Wildair Live," a theatrical farce written in the manner of George Farquhar. Along with Willard Welsh and Oscar Haugland, he created the original musical, "Jane," based on the life of Jane Addams. Many in DeKalb will remember his bringing local history to life with his dramatizations of many local heroes and heroines, including Dr. Leticia Westgate. He also wrote the pageant for the sesquicentennial of DeKalb County. He led alumni theater tours to London for many years, as well as teaching at Oxford for several summers. A man of faith, he created many interesting plays to be performed in churches. Many congregations shared in these special works of theater, including his own beloved parish, First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb. For more than 50 years he enjoyed being a member of the congregation where he served as a moderator, Sunday school teacher, chairman and member of several committees and member of the choir.
No one was a bigger Cubs fan. An avid gardener, he loved his roses and took pride in having "the best borders in DeKalb." He loved to swim, to walk and ice skate. In fine weather, he could be seen walking from his house in Tilton Park to his office at the university along the river.
His family was everything to him. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marilyn. He was preceded in death by infant daughter, Laura Ellen in 1955. Living children include Jim (Angela) of Dixon, Mark (Christine) of St. Paul, Minn., Katherine (Alan) of Culver City, Calif., and Caroline (Nick) of Los Angeles, Calif. Grandchildren are Amy, Jordan (Eleni), Nathan (Ariana), Jonathan (Katie), Jessica (Raymond), Chloe and Harry. Great-grandchildren are Kaitlynn, Payton, Jacob, James, Rayden, Shayla, Lily and Persephone.
A memorial service in his honor will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 2, at his new and wonderful church home, Seaside Community Church, in Torrance. His cremains will be brought home to DeKalb by his loved ones this summer. At that time there will be a celebration of his life for all those who love and remember him here, as he did them.
If you would like to honor his life, the family asks that you do so by contributing to one of three organizations that meant so much to him:
• Sigma Tau Delta – Department of English?, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, English.org
• Stage Coach Players, P.O. Box 511, DeKalb, IL 60115, StageCoachers.com.
• To further research to battle the disease with which he lived for the last decade and a half of his life, a fund has been set up in his name (E. Nelson James): National Parkinson Foundation Inc., 1501 N.W. Ninth Ave./Bob Hope Road, Miami, FL 33136-1494, Parkinson.org.
"Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."