James (Jim) Robert Michalke, Sr., 85
After a full day of receiving family visitors and enjoying chocolate ice cream, James (Jim) Robert Michalke, Sr., 85, beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, said good night to his wife of 65 years on Saturday, November 9, 2019, and peacefully succumbed to congestive heart failure in his sleep at Homewood Health Campus, in Lebanon, Indiana. He and his wife have both been receiving medical care at the facility for the past several weeks.
Born on March 10, 1934, in Lafayette, Indiana, he grew up in West Lafayette on the Michalke Family Farm on South River Road in a multi-generational home with his parents, the late John Phillip and Mabel (Hinton) Michalke, his late sister, Barbara Ann (Michalke) Caster, and his paternal grandfather, Frank August Michalke, who with his wife, Pauline (Jarecki) Michalke and their newborn son, Nikolaus, had immigrated to the United States from Friedland, Germany, in 1892, to join his three sisters and their growing families in Lafayette. Although his Grandpa Frank died when Jim was just a boy, he often quipped a few German phrases that he had learned from him while growing up, and Jim fondly remembered his grandfather pouring his hot coffee into the cup’s saucer to make it cool enough to drink.
Farming ran deep in Jim’s blood. On his mother’s side, generations before him had raised tobacco in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, first arriving in the Virginia Territories from England in the mid-1600s. Likely uprooted by the American Revolutionary War, eventually those ancestors moved west in search of inexpensive farmland on the new frontier, first in Kentucky, then Ohio, and eventually in Clinton County, Indiana, settling on a plot of land that was purchased from the United States government in 1830. The deed for the Hinton farm was signed by Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States of America.
A 1952 graduate of Montmorenci High School, he was a star player for the school’s 1952 regional championship basketball team, coached by his late uncle, Cletis Hinton. After graduating from high school, Jim worked at the Alcoa Aluminum Plant and also helped refurbish the 1908 Grandville Bridge, a through truss iron bridge that spanned the mighty Wabash River near the Michalke Family Farm on South River Road for nearly 80 years, until it was replaced in 1988. No stranger to long hours and working hard, at the same time, he completed a certificate program in agriculture at nearby Purdue University, drawing him even deeper into his first love – farming.
In 1954, he was drafted into the US Army and completed basic training at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas. During a brief leave after basic training, he returned to Lafayette, Indiana, and married his sweetheart, Barbara Ellen Ketterer, daughter of Joseph C. and Mary F. (Thoennes) Ketterer, at Saint Boniface Catholic Church on June 5, 1954. He shipped out immediately after the wedding to report for duty at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. His new bride joined him shortly after in Oklahoma and the new couple then transferred to Fort Eustis in Virginia, where they began a family, while Jim completed his military service as a Private First Class helicopter mechanic. The thrill of the white-knuckled helicopter rides at Fort Eustis made Jim a lifelong flight enthusiast. He often made excursions to Grissom Airforce Base north of Kokomo, Indiana, or to Chicago’s Air and Water Show, or anywhere that he could catch a glimpse of the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels performing.
After military service, Jim and Barbara returned to the Michalke Family Farm in West Lafayette, where Jim was determined to be a farmer. However, two back-to-back devastating Wabash River floods in the summers of 1957 and 1958 completely destroyed the aspiring farmer’s crops and washed away the couple’s dreams to begin construction on a new family home. Reeling from the setback, the couple sought refuge on higher ground, relocating to Thorntown, Indiana, in the winter of 1959 with their two young children. After years of being a tenant farmer growing corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, and raising chickens, cattle, and hogs on the Homer and Helen Woody Farm, the couple got their first break in 1967 – an opportunity to buy their own farmland from Joe and Ellie Goins, which became the hub for Michalke Farms and the family homestead that the couple moved into in 1976, a tri-level house they built themselves, along with the help of friends and family, including several of Barbara’s brothers who were tradesmen. By the early 1980s, the couple also had acquired the Woody Farm where they first lived on Hazelrigg Road, south of Thorntown, and also the Woody farmland north and northwest of Thorntown along Sugar Creek.
Over the years, Jim’s big heart drew him to many causes. He was a volunteer firefighter for the Thorntown-Sugar Creek Fire Department. He took advanced medical training courses to become one of Boone County’s first volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) and helped the local volunteer fire department set up one of the County’s earliest first responder programs. He was named Boone County Red Cross disaster chairman and served as Boone County’s Civil Defense zone director in the 1980s. He was also a Boone County Co-Op board member for many years through the 1970s and 1980s. Whether it was teaching religious education classes, coaching girl’s softball, or providing Red Cross CPR training, Jim was always eager to volunteer his time. Where there was a need, Jim was often there, ready to help and also ready to enlist the support of friends and his own family to pitch in and get things done – even when it meant he wasn’t the most popular dad with his kids.
Staunchly patriotic, Jim was extremely proud of his service to our country. He was an avid member and officer of the American Legion Post 218 and requested that he be laid to rest in his service uniform. In April 2017, he delighted in taking the Honor Flight for US veterans from Lafayette to Washington, DC, for a day of tribute and touring of our national monuments, including the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the conflict that had driven him into military service.
He was also an avid sports enthusiast and weekend sports warrior. In his spare time, he loved teaching his family to water ski, ice skate and snare fish through thick ice during bone-chilling winters. He was adept at just about any sport from basketball to baseball to soft ball to ping pong, having honed his table tennis craft with buddies while in the service. On occasion, his embarrassed children would leave him at the town park’s ball diamond or the basketball or tennis court and go home, while he played and played and played into the night like a teenager. Sometimes the next day he’d admit that taking on much-younger basketball or tennis enthusiasts wasn’t always as easy as it once had been for him.
He also loved to hunt for everything, from foraging for morel mushrooms in the wet spring woods, to picking wild black raspberries in the hot summer sun, to chasing foxes or deer in the cold winter months. Not only did he always provide a full table to nourish his family, he also taught them with pride that if you know how to raise your own food, you’ll never go to bed hungry.
Jim and Barbara both loved to travel. From their many romantic Hawaii excursions to the not-so-romantic stuffed-station wagon family vacations, they were always up for an adventure. Through international cruises, an African safari, a China Yangtze River cruise, and tracing family roots across Europe, they touched four continents in their travels. Not bad for a couple of farmers from Indiana.
More than anything in life, Jim loved his family. No holiday or celebration – or frankly even the average day – was complete without family. He and Barbara could often be found at Grandparents Day, a sporting event, a play or musical, or any excuse for a special gathering at Thorntown Elementary School or Western Boone High School.
In March, family gathered to celebrate his 85th birthday. In June, Jim and Barbara’s five children and their spouses and partners, James Robert, Jr. (Heather Kreml) of Lebanon, Jane Ellen (Danny Lawson) of Thorntown, Theodore William (Thomas Marano) of Chicago, Kenneth Joseph, and John Edward (Crystal Tatman) both of Thorntown, brought together the couple’s 12 grandchildren Katy, Morgan, Emily, Mallory, Benjamin, Laura, Caleb, Cedric, Levi, Jared, Keegan, and Brooklyn and their spouses and families, including 14 great grandchildren, to celebrate the milestone of their 65 years of marriage. The open house reception at the Thorntown Public Library drew more than 125 friends and family members from far and near. The following day, the couple renewed their marriage vows during a mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lebanon, Indiana – a parish and community they have nurtured and supported for more than 60 years. It was a celebration of their lives together that could not have come at a better time.
In his later years, Jim battled myriad medical conditions. He was virtually a walking medical encyclopedia and could possibly be dubbed the six million dollar man, an apt nickname that could approximate the cost of his many surgeries and hospitalizations. Through it all, despite the odds, he always managed to fight his way back to health – until recently when his weakening heart made it harder and harder to beat back the inevitable end to a life well-lived.
This week, Jim’s family invites you to join in the celebration of his life at the following services:
Thursday, November 14
Strawmyer and Drury Funeral Home
2400 N Lebanon St, Lebanon, IN 46052
Rosary 1:30 pm
Visitation 2-8 pm
Friday, November 15
St. Joseph Catholic Church
319 E South St, Lebanon, IN 46052
Visitation 9:30 am
Funeral Mass 10:30 am
Luncheon – immediately following mass in the church hall
Maple Lawn Cemetery
West Grant Street, Thorntown, IN 46071
Graveside Service 1:30 pm
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that you consider a memorial gift to any of the following incredibly well-deserving causes:
Thorntown-Sugar Creek Fire Department
Make check payable to above and mail to 301 West Grant Street, Thorntown, IN 46071
American Legion Post 218
Make check payable to above and mail to P.O. Box 44, Thorntown, IN 46071
Saint Joseph Catholic Church
Make check payable to above and mail to 319 East South Street, Lebanon, IN 46052
University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center, designated to supporting limb salvage and amputation prevention efforts. Make check payable to UHCMC, note “Dr. Shishehbor’s endovascular research” in the memo, and send to University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center, c/o Rebecca Kahl Harrington Heart & Vascular Center, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106, Mailstop: LKS 5035