Jim was born to Katherine Eliza (Billman) and Frank James Lees of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in 1936. He started early as an avid outdoorsman spending much of his young life learning in nature. He attained his Life Guard certificate in swimming and earned the rank of Eagle Scout by the time he graduated from high school.
He left his Ohio home to attend forestry school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado where he trained for a career in the outdoors and honed his knowledge and interest in natural resources. CSU Climbing Club was where he met Judy Hollard, who shared his excitement of the natural world. Soon Jim and Judy were married.
After earning his degree in Forestry, Jim began his career with the U.S. Forest Service which took the new family to national forests in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Along the way they raised two children ever sharing the love of nature. Jim added to his skills by serving as Ski Patrol and learning to ride and pack horses in the wilderness areas where he worked.
Upon early retirement, Jim purchased the Ox Yoke Ranch on East Ash Creek south of Whitney where he began raising cattle and horses. After Judy’s death, he married Dixie Hageman. Dixie shared his love of horses and the rural life. They continued ranching and became involved in many organizations and activities including Nebraska High Country, NRD board, PRIDE, and Ride the Ridge. They also served as foster parents to many young people.
Jim’s passion for history led him to research, write, and orally interpret many regional, historic people, places, and events. Jim also began memorizing and reciting cowboy poetry. One of his favorite poems was The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service. He touched many people’s lives with his civic involvement and oral presentations of history and poetry.
Jim is survived by his wife, Dixie; children Jenny (Dave) Nixon of Crawford, and Jay (Gretchen) of Chadron; step-children Thad (Gloria) DeHaven of Woodbridge, VA, and Renee (Justin) Willard of Windsor, CO; grandchildren Rachel and Nathaniel Nixon; and sister Pat Buzulence of Twinsburg, OH.
Memorials have been established for the Whitney United Methodist Church and the Crawford Rescue Unit. Donations may be sent to Chamberlain Chapel, PO Box 970, Chadron, NE 69337.