EULOGY: On behalf of Jim’s family, I have been asked to extend their deepest gratitude to all who have joined with us here, and on our live stream, to celebrate the life and memory of James Anthony Sleisher, known by all as Jim. My name is Miles Kessler from Edmonds, Washington. I have been a friend of Wendy and Jim Sleisher for 50 years. Jim was a devoted husband of 45 years to Wendy, and a fantastic, fun-loving father to Claire for her 27 years. He was a beloved teacher and respected school administrator for about 25 years. Jim was greatly admired and appreciated as a coach for many more years.
To describe him in one word, it would be LEADER. Jim loved each of his students and players as unique individuals, and with remarkable acuity and perceptiveness, Jim was able to discern how to best help improve their weaknesses and spotlight their strengths. A favorite story I heard was about the time Jim was coaching flag football at Holy Family School in Lacey. The kids were playing a public school team that came out onto the field for a game dressed in beautiful gold and red, spanking new warm up outfits. You could just see the Holy Family Crusaders deflate in their mix-matched shorts and plain white t-shirts. Jim had to run the school on a shoe-string as its 8th grade teacher and principal. The kids had to play schools much bigger than Holy Family who could cull for the best athletes. Jim’s team was pretty much the whole 8th gr. class. Every boy played. At half-time, the Crusaders were complaining: “Coach, we are so behind, we’ll never catch up. They are better than us, they look better than us, and they have moustaches!” Jim just looked each one of them in the eye and said, “Men, they definitely look better than you, but they are not as smart as you. If they came to our school, why, I would have to put them back a grade or two. And besides, you’ve got me!” True to form, Jim was able to bring his team back to the grid iron to win the game.” Jim was a truly inspiring man!
You could talk to Jim about anything and everything. He was a great story-teller, but an even better listener. He was full of optimism and a had a great sense of fun and adventure. Jim loved things to be serendipitous (one of his favorite words) , even though he was always a careful and thorough planner whether it be a camping trip, a delicious Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner he himself cooked, or fantasizing in great detail about how he was going to spend each week’s lottery winnings.
Jim will be remembered by many people as a hard-worker, so full of integrity, honesty and self-control. He was smart, funny, articulate, and logical. Jim was a loyal friend, generous and self-sacrificing. He was a man of a great, life-long faith, a scholar of history and religion. He was an unwavering idealist.
One of Jim’s great sorrows was that he couldn’t have any children. He had names for thirteen when he and Wendy were first married. Jim would always call his students HIS kids and thought of them as part of his extended family. His greatest joy was to finally be able to celebrate Father’s Day. He was always tickled when people would say his adopted, very Hispanic-looking daughter Claire, looked just like him. His proudest moments usually involved coaching Claire who batted 780, won the free throw contest among a dozen schools, or scored a soccer goal for the win. What made Jim exceptional was not only that his daughter was victorious, but that her whole team of players each kicked a goal themselves. He helped them all to see themselves as winners, and what it takes to be a good sport, because he was a man of character, a leader that showed by example.
Jim had three rules in life, as he was often heard to recount: 1] “If I am not early, I’m late.” 2] “If I haven’t brought too much, I haven’t brought enough!” and for the boy scout , turned Eagle Scout: 3] Good luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
I mentioned earlier that Jim had names for thirteen children. He had a thing for the number 13. Unlike most people, Jim figured it was his lucky number. He got married on Friday the 13th of June, on the feast day of his name saint, St. Anthony of Padua. He would often say it was the smartest thing he ever did, a real stroke of Good Fortune, marrying Wendy on that day. He would celebrate his “month-a-versaries” with Wendy whenever a Friday landed on the 13th. He would often say that 13 was his favorite number. Jim is probably smiling down from on high knowing we are here to celebrate him on January 13.
James Anthony Sleisher, known all his life as Jim, was born in Emporia, Kansas on May 23, 1947, son of Everett and Joy Sleisher, and brother to younger sister Gerry. The family stayed in Kansas until Jim was 6 when they moved to Tacoma, WA. The family settled down at E. 46th and “G,” across the street from Sacred Heart Church and School, where Jim attended school and served devotedly as an altar server. His High School years were spent at Bellarmine Prep, at that time, Tacoma’s all boys Catholic High School, from which Jim graduated with honors in 1965. From there he proudly attended Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Foreign Languages and Education. He received his administrator credentials from the Carden Educational Foundation. In 1983 he received his Master’s Degree in Catholic Theology and an advanced Diploma in Catechetics from New York St. John’s University Pontifical Institute, a program overseen by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Faith.
Jim’s first job out of college was to work as Director of Vocational Rehabilitation for Sheltered Workshops in Seattle, while Wendy was finishing up her studies at Seattle University. He set up and administered four group homes for clients suffering from chemical abuse and developmental disabilities, as well as the chronically mentally ill patients released from the State Mental Institutions. Jim lived in one of the group homes, teaching his roommates life skills, keeping them safe, getting them to participate in physical activities at the YMCA, and getting them involved in social activities. After two years, Jim went to work for Washington State Employment Security as a District Program Manager supervising four vocational outstation locations. Jim also worked for the Washington State Legislature House of Representatives as a Committee Clerk for the Department of Transportation.
Jim was enjoying his challenging work as a civil servant but he was not where he wanted to be. He married Wendy Schack Sleisher on June 13, 1975 and spent their first years of marriage in Lacey, Washington where she was involved in the opening of Holy Family School and serving as the first kindergarten teacher. Jim decided to quit his job with the state, making $32,000 a year to serve the Catholic Church as a middle school teacher at Holy Family School making $3,200 on a nine-month contract. The money deficit did not bother Jim. He had confidence in God that He would provide. Jim was positive that he was now finally doing what God wanted him to do.
Wendy and Jim poured their hearts and souls into the school. They did whatever they could to keep the school thriving. Jim served not only as the principal and 8th grade teacher for ten years, but also as bus driver, janitor, groundskeeper, school librarian, lunch duty, athletic director and coach. To maintain a close relationship with Sacred Heart Church in Lacey, Wendy and Jim also volunteered as lay leaders in the parish, with Jim as a Parish Council Member.
It was a very grace-filled time for Jim and Wendy, overcoming struggles of running a private Catholic school during a time when private and Catholic Schools were closing down on a daily basis. The children and parents involved became their extended family. But Wendy and Jim were grieving over not being able to have children of their own. Adoption agencies told the couple that they didn’t make enough money to be “financially competitive with other adoptive parents.” Jim had also turned 40 years old, and according to Washington State law would not be allowed to adopt a baby.
After trying to find more lucrative work, Jim and Wendy finally moved to Corpus Christi, Texas with the hopes of being able to adopt. Jim had done some research and found that there were more illegitimate births in Nueces County than anywhere else in the country. The good Sisters of Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament assured Jim of their help towards adoption, if he would come to teach and coach at their Middle School, Incarnate Word Academy. While working in the Corpus Christi Diocese from 1991 to 1996, Jim was able to teach for the Academy, but also for the diocesan Pastoral Institute at which he instructed deaconate candidates, deacons, school personnel, and other lay ministers in Sacred Scripture. Jim especially loved teaching the Acts and Letters of St. Paul. Feedback from his students would often include how God had set their hearts on fire with love for the Scriptures through Jim’s inspiring teaching. Jim always loved teaching!
There were several adoptive babies whose biological parents had chosen Wendy and Jim to be parents, but heart break always ensued. Finally, they were able to pick up their two-day old infant daughter at the hospital and bring her home. It was one of the happiest, incredible moments of their lives. They sang to little Claire-Marie Magdalene all throughout the three-hour journey home! Jim was finally going to get to celebrate Father’s Day! Over 200 people showed up for Claire’s baptism the next month. Such wonderful support for the new family!
When Claire was 2 ½ years old, the family made the cross-country trip back to Washington to be closer to family. Jim served as principal at St. Paul’s Cathedral School in Yakima for two years. Two years later, Jim accepted the job of Superintendent of Catholic Schools in Boise, Idaho. Wendy found her dream job as religious education coordinator for twenty years at St. Mark’s parish. Boise was a wonderful place to raise Claire while she attended Catholic School.
While in Boise, in 2013, Jim was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia. With Wendy’s aged parents still surviving, it was time to move back to Tacoma to be close to them and for Jim to get the help he needed at the world-renown Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. In 2017, Jim and Wendy, with their daughter Claire, moved back to Tacoma. In January of 2019, Wendy sustained permanent neurological damage from an infection, coupled with rheumatoid arthritis, leaving her a cripple in chronic pain. Jim was so attentive to her needs and supportive as a warm and caring caregiver. When Wendy’s mother, Mary Anne passed away at the beginning of 2019, Jim soon after moved with Wendy to her parents’ home to help take care of his wife and 91year old father-in-law, Stan. Even though Jim suffered with some sleepless nights, muscle pain and a very compromised immune system, he didn’t really show any other symptoms and appeared to all to be the picture of health. When his platelet numbers, etc. took a bad turn in November of 2020, it led his oncologist to prescribe a chemotherapy to which Jim quickly and positively responded. This medicine may have contributed however to the massive heart attack Jim sustained on January 3, 2021 at his home during his sleep. Jim also had significant brain damage from the event. He died peacefully at the hospital on January 5 with Wendy and Claire at his side.
Jim is survived by his wife Wendy and daughter Claire, his younger sister Gerry Kuaimoku now residing in Seattle, and her daughter, Jim’s niece, Kate. Jim will be missed by many friends across the country, including those who attended daily Mass with him at St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma. Jim will be remembered for his wonderful sense of humor, his story telling, his unwavering optimism. Jim loved the great outdoors, camping and canoeing, hiking and traveling. He was an avid reader, a scholar, history buff and someone you would want on your team if you were playing Trivia Pursuit. He loved the Catholic Church and her treasures of the Mass, the Sacraments, Holy Scriptures, Blessed Mother, the Fathers of the Church and Saints. On Jim’s behalf, the family thanks all the prayer warriors who came to Jim’s aid, to all those who sent spiritual bouquets and enrollments, Masses and memorials. All the donations, sympathy cards, condolences, flowers and meals for the family are greatly appreciated.
Let perpetual light shine upon Jim. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. AMEN.
Jim's Prayer to the Holy Spirit
O Holy Spirit,
Be my Wisdom to teach me faith;
Be my Understanding in my doubts;
Be my Courage, my Hope, and Strength against temptation and trials;
Be my Right Judgement in all my decision-making;
Be my Love in all my actions;
Be my Reverence in all my prayers, That You may be my True Comforter in my last hours and my Blessed Happiness for all eternity. Amen.
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