Thornton Wilder could have written the character of Jim Long.
With unassuming grace and genuine care, Jim built a legacy in a city he loved that will last far longer than the 83 years he spent here.
I’m not sure Appletonians understand how much he meant to the city, or how hard he was willing to work to guide its growth. Outagamie County District Attorney by 30-years old, Jim spent the next 53 years in dogged, though refined, support of justice, opportunity and the American dream for his clients and community.
He ran for Congress in 1972 and, according to his obituary, “would often say that losing that race (to his good friend Harold Froehlich) paved the way for good things to come.”
From then on, he worked as an attorney in private practice and as a real estate developer and, in both jobs, he developed lifelong relationships with people. Jim championed small business owners and cared deeply about his tenants. He enjoyed representing clients from places like Dale, Black Creek and Shiocton. His handshake signaled the end of negotiations and the beginning of a lasting relationship. He regularly stopped in to check on people and worked steadily into his 83rd year.
A driving force in getting the Fox River Mall built in 1984, he proved his contention that Appleton could support both a mall and a thriving downtown, and he helped position the city for longterm success.
He was Mr. Long to me back then, proud father of five, including my friend and high school basketball teammate Colleen. He, along with my parents and the Kewleys and Doyles formed a merry band of Xavier Hawk Girls Basketball Fans, who understood that basketball was a game and that games were meant to be fun. They came to every one of our games, home and away, and, more importantly, toasted us with ice cream, win or lose, after each one.
Even more than his legacy as one of Appleton’s champions, Jim Long’s real gift to the world and his everlasting joy lies in those five kids, now grown with thriving families and professional lives of their own.
In Wilder’s Our Town, Emily only realizes after her death what a gift her life and her town had been. I like to think it will be the opposite with Jim Long, who seemed to be one of those rare people who “realized how wonderful life was while he lived it.” I think people, those who were lucky enough to know him and those who didn’t, should realize how wonderful Jim was for Our Town, and the legacy of optimism he left behind.
“There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being,” Wilder said and, for Jim, that something was a sense of community.
He liked to say he was the smartest boy in his grade school class, an indisputable fact as Jim graduated from a one-room school house and was the only boy in his class. He went on to graduate from Marquette University, both undergraduate and law, and served in the U.S. Air Force.
In his eloquent eulogy, Jim’s oldest son Kevin spoke about Spencer Road, where Jim grew up, built a house across the road from his mother, and faithfully drove back and forth including, each Sunday, to St. Mary’s Parish.
The road itself looks a lot different today, and so does the city it used to border (that now stretches beyond it).
That, too, is a legacy Jim left us all.