Life Remembered: Jim Washburn a wise adviser

CHAMPAIGN — There's a long shrine of photos and flowers along the fence of the man neighbors knew as the wise adviser, sometimes "the Dad," of Hill Street.

Jim Washburn, 66, was a Vietnam War veteran, ironworker, father, coach, walker of many dogs, purveyor of wisdom and rehabber of homes. His funeral was Wednesday.

Neighbor Graham Barnett, 14, was outside the house with the big porch Thursday, concerned how widow Emily Klose was doing.

He spoke of Mr. Washburn as a man with good advice, both on building and on life in general.

"I was helping him on a building project," Barnett said.

He's well-remember as a soccer coach, including for his daughter Claire. He also taught more than one Hill Street boy how to dunk, said Graham's mother, Beth.

"He's just very kind and generous," she said. "He never says no when you needed him. He's always there for you. Anything you needed — a bike tire pumped, a truck you need to borrow."

That fullness of life spirit and can-do attitude impressed his future wife.

"When I first knew him, I called him Coach," said Klose, who was impressed by him at a wedding reception a short time after Mr. Washburn had gone through a divorce. Many of their early dates were children's soccer games.

A one-time ironworker, injuries forced Mr. Washburn into becoming a home rehabber and rental unit owner, where he was sometimes able to find homes for the homeless.

The iron work had left him with many injuries. He also had three cardio shocks in a short period. Lately, his heart had been out of rhythm. His back also caused him pain.

But Emily Klose wonders whether nightmares from service in Vietnam finally pushed himself to the point where he shot himself in the basement Sept. 26.

She wants well-wishers to consider donating to the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the University of Illinois, which recently opened, too late to help Mr. Washburn.

Born in Virginia, Mr. Washburn came to Illinois via the former Chanute Air Force Base. He served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, and showed the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Steve Smith was in Vietnam with Jim Washburn. Both were in the Air Force, but Smith said he was in base supply while his friend was on helicopter missions to rescue dead and wounded soldiers and Marines.

After they left Chanute, the two lived and worked together, at the old Red Lion bar and a now-forgotten department store at Sunnycrest Mall in Urbana.

Friend Steve Cox described Mr. Washburn as "a very good-hearted, peace-loving man who bore the invisible scars of having walked into too many long, dark trails in Vietnam."

Ed Bridges, a close friend, said the war left its mark on Mr. Washburn.

"From his Vietnam experience, he taught me a whole lot about humility. He was very, very much in tune with nature, and he taught me to appreciate things around me," Bridges said. "Every time I was upset, he'd say, 'Get out, take a walk and look at the trees and flowers. They're part of life.'"

Mr. Washburn is also survived by two sons, Caleb (Stephanie) Washburn; and Aaron (fiancee Sarah Campbell); and three grandchildren.

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