James Figy thought the experiences he’s derived from living the past 88 years might prove interesting to a few people. So he wrote it all down and published the results.
“What Life Is: A Lifetime of Memories,” his autobiography, became available in November after Figy spent about seven years putting memories and thoughts to paper. But he didn’t have it published for general consumption. Two hundred copies were printed for family, friends, and others of Figy’s acquaintance who may take away inspiration from his experiences serving God and his fellow man.
“We’ve had a good life, a productive life,” the Wauseon resident said of himself and his wife of 67 years, Hazel. “It’s been our cup of tea. There’s so much enjoyment to helping somebody.”
Born in a farmhouse at the junction of Count Road 16 and County Road E in Fulton County, Figy’s life was challenged early. In 1934, at age six, he spent weeks away from school and lost hearing in his right ear during a scarlet fever epidemic in which red “Quarantine” signs were placed on affected houses. He accepted the loss and moved on.
“They couldn’t treat diseases like they do today. The Lord just gave me twice the hearing in my good ear,” he said.
One of his companions during the almost eight years he lived in the farmhouse was his grandfather, Amos. Figy said he learned a lot from the man, including a work ethic by pumping water for the cows they raised.
“He taught me how to save my pennies,” Figy said with a laugh. “If he was feeling good, he’d give me two pennies. If he wasn’t feeling good, he’d give me a penny. He’d say, ‘Jimmy, save your pennies,’ and I did. And they still accuse me of saving my pennies.”
About a year and a half later, his father was hired to work on a farm raising turkeys. The family stayed there until 1943, when his parents entered into a partnership called Botts & Figy Poultry Farm with local doctor Lee Botts. It was located on U.S. 20A just outside of Wauseon.
Figy lived there through his years at Wauseon High School, where he played football and met Hazel, who marched in the band. They married in 1949 at their longtime church, First Church of God in Wauseon, and moved to a rental property on West Jefferson Street. Rent was $25, until the couple agreed to pay an additional $7.50 per month for the luxury of a water heater and a bathtub.
“So we appreciate our modern conveniences,” Figy said with a wink.
In 1954, he and his wife bought a Cherry Street home owned by his grandfather, and have been there since.
They continued work at his parents’ poultry farm until 1968, when the farm’s procedures suddenly didn’t jibe with new federal regulations. The work changed to custom poultry processing, and Figy moved on to the parts department of a local Chrysler dealership for a few years. He then worked for over 18 years as a meat cutter at St. Mary’s Locker in Assumption.
After their retirements, the Figys returned to his aging parents’ farm and took over management. They officially retired in 1998 and sold the farm.
While the first half of his autobiography deals with his history, the second delves into the volunteer work Figy and his wife performed for their church. It included work projects that took them across the country, including stops in Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and Arizona, and sometimes involved their four children.
The first work project, in 1967 when Figy became a Christian, and the last one seven years ago, took them to Wounded Knee, found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was there the Figys helped build a tepee-shaped chapel, forged lasting friendships, and soaked up the Native American culture.
And for six years Figy took students at Anderson University in Indiana on trips to Costa Rica and to the Church of God Bible Training School in San Tillo, Mexico, to volunteer and learn the culture.
“We felt our ministry was a ministry of encouragement as we labored in these projects. We always said we wanted to share our blessings, and we always encouraged other people to go with us,” he said.
He was also active locally in 4-H and Scouting.
“We’re great believers in volunteerism. Volunteers can change the world and will change the world,” Figy said. “Serving others and helping others in need is what it’s all about. If you can give yourself, it’s better than giving money. We’ve touched lives all over the world.”
With help from his grandson, a writer, he started his book seven years ago. He drew inspiration from Tony Dungy, at that time the coach for the Indianapolis Colts, who wrote his own thought-provoking book after his son committed suicide.
“He was a self-motivator. He accepted heartaches and disappointment in stride,” Figy said. “He took advantage of opportunities that availed themselves.”
Figy has given away about 120 copies of his book to good response, but accepts donations which he gives to the church ministry at Wounded Knee to build a community center.
Ron Bliss, a Wauseon resident and author who has known Figy for 47 years and has volunteered with him, said the autobiography gives insight into Figy’s life in a rural community and his service to others.
“Any individual that has the desire, no matter how ordinary a person they are, can accomplish the things that Jim did if they’re motivated and inspired,” Bliss said.
Figy said if his book has any theme, it’s this: “Give of yourself, and trust in the Lord.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.