Jim Figy had decades of life experiences crowding his memory, and his family wanted them to cherish.
“The kids kept harping on me – ‘Dad, you’ve got to write them down,’” he said.
So the now 90-year-old Wauseon native decided to oblige. Writing in longhand, and with the encouragement of Hazel, his wife of almost 69 years, Figy spilled his life and opinions onto paper over a six-year period. By the time he finished he had covered his childhood, his marriage and children, and the community and missionary work that became an integral part of his existence.
Copies of his self-published 2016 memoir, “What Life Is: A Lifetime of Memories,” will be available Friday from 2-4 p.m. at a book-signing at the Museum of Fulton County, 8848 State Route 108, in Dover Township. It’s a humbling event for the nonagenarian, who said simply, “The Lord’s really blessed us. We committed our lives to the Lord in 1963, and from that time on all kinds of doors and opportunities opened up for us.”
A 1946 graduate of Wauseon High School, Figy used his razor-sharp memory to collect his lifetime of stories. In his book, he travels as far back as age three, when he attended First Church of God on Fulton Street with his grandmother, Josephine Cox. The story moves forward to his home on County Road F, and his time at Bayes School, a one-room schoolhouse he attended in bib overalls.
“I was a sickly, puny little rascal when I started school,” he recalled. “Every time a childhood disease went by, I got it.” His illnesses, which included scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, and a serious ear infection, kept him out of school a total of 18 weeks over first and second grades.
“I overheard a doctor tell my parents, ‘Jimmy’s going to get well, but he’ll never be a normal child.’ Of course, we proved him wrong,” he said.
Figy also recounts his courtship with his wife, also 90. Although he and Hazel Pike attended the same school, they didn’t know each other. When Figy finally noticed her in junior high school, “My first approach to Hazel was not very diplomatic,” he said with a laugh.
Spotting her at the Fulton County Fair, he indicated the Tilt-A-Whirl and said, “Hey, Pike, you want to ride on that thing?” Because such rides made her ill, the answer was no.
“But that wasn’t her true feelings,” he said, and in high school he had a friend arrange a date with her. The rest, Figy said, is history.
His book also takes readers through his work after high school, raising and processing turkeys with his father, who partnered in a poultry farm with a local doctor. At one point, the successful business raised 12,000 turkeys annually.
With a chuckle, Figy admitted to learning more than the poultry trade while employed there.
“That’s where I got my education, out behind the barn with the hired men,” he said. “I could shoot craps – I could do about anything because those guys taught me. My dad worked really hard, and didn’t really have a lot of time to spend with me, but there was always a couple hired men hanging around. I learned a lot.”
After leaving that business in 1968, Figy eventually found his way to St. Mary’s Meat Locker in Assumption, where he was hired to cut meat. He retired from there in 1992, then managed Figy Poultry Processing for his aging father until 1998.
What Figy considers an essential segment of his book deals with his community and missionary work. Throughout his life, and up until about six years ago, he and Hazel and their four children devoted countless hours and energy to helping others.
“I saw my folks take people to the doctor, and I saw my folks would call on people that were sick, and that rubbed off on me,” he said.
He also took a cue from community members he saw constantly stepping up around town.
“I just wanted to follow in their footsteps. They were giving, always giving,” he said of those who influenced him. “And so, volunteering became my middle name. We just have always felt that volunteering was something that could change the world, and it is changing the world.”
In addition to his stints with the Wauseon Lions Club, the Boy Scouts, the local 4-H program, and the Exchange Club, Figy gave time to the Fulton County Fair Board and the FISH food distribution program. He and Hazel involved their children – Ralph, Rex, Alan, and Marsha – in missionary work through First Church of God that took them across the country.
He said a highlight of his book involves their work with other missionaries to aid Native Americans in Wounded Knee, S.D. In fact, all of the proceeds from “What Life Is,” for which he accepts only donations, go to help finance that region’s Place of Promise project, a community life center.
Figy said the book, which is also filled with family photos and memorabilia, was supposed to be a gift to his family, and no more. “(But) it’s caught fire. I’ve had a lot of good compliments,” he said.
When the Museum of Fulton County recently asked Figy to sign copies of his book for patrons, he was both surprised and humbled. “It’s sharing our blessings. God’s been good to us,” he said.
Scott Lonsdale, the museum’s operations manager, said the facility is attempting to highlight local artists and authors like Figy.
“The basic thing here is that he’s dedicated himself to community service and helping others. The book is a great resource to inspire the next generation to carry on in his footsteps,” Lonsdale said.
Saying modestly, “I am what I am. I have no false fronts,” Figy said authoring one book is enough.
“My family wanted me to write it all down. I just did what they asked me to do,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.