A Life Spent “Passing it On”
By Kelli Delzer, Yellowstone-Taylor Fork Chapter
James J. Kilmer passed from this earth on October 29, 2010, at his home in Ennis, Montana, with his wife Sharon nearby. How appropriate it was that one week into Montana’s big game season, Jim set up his eternal elk camp upon the Happy Hunting Ground.
Born in Canton, New York, on July 8, 1926, to DeAling and Lou Vern Kilmer, Jim left home the day after his 17th birthday to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He served for 30 years, retiring in 1974 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He married Sharon 10 years after his retirement, uniting them, his eight children and her two, into a combined family of 12. Equally content with a horse under him or a hammer in his hands, Jim spent his “retirement” fishing, hunting and building homes from Washington to California.
Ever the devoted conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts, Jim and Sharon were drawn to RMEF’s first Annual Elk Camp in Spokane, Washington, in 1985. What they heard at that convention touched a chord within them, and Jim became RMEF life member #19L. Sharon joined the following year and proudly acquired her life membership, #69L.
Jim served on the RMEF Board of Directors from 1988-1993 and his commitment to the Elk Foundation ran deep. Jim and Sharon were instrumental in helping start the Mount Baker, North Puget Sound and Skagit Valley RMEF chapters in Washington. Between 1988 and 1994 the Kilmers attended more than 60 banquets, in addition to the annual conventions. The Kilmer’s were honored for their outstanding attendance achievement with a “Banquet Junky” plaque, presented to them by the RMEF’s Washington State Resource Team in 1994.
Sharon says that Jim felt that as a board member, “It would project a good image if we attended as many banquets as possible during this time. What started out as a sense of obligation became so much fun that we couldn’t stop going to banquets.” She regrets that they “only attended 20 of the national conventions.”
The couple moved to Montana in 2003 and spread their enthusiasm and passion for elk country among numerous chapters. They continued to donate their time and resources as volunteers on several committees and also became Habitat Partners at the Imperial level.
Jim was the “banquet mascot” for the Yellowstone-Taylor Fork RMEF Chapter. He laughed, he cheered, he bid, and he volunteered support in many ways. For six years he and Sharon donated various pieces of artwork and pottery. When Jim didn’t feel the bidding was going high enough, he’d cap the bid and take the piece back home. The week following the chapter event, Jim would call my husband Pete (the chapter chair) and say, “Come pick this up. Sharon and I are donating it back for next year’s banquet.”
As Jim often stated, RMEF was truly his second family. He is loved and missed by all whose lives he touched. The mark he leaves is in the hearts of those he leaves behind. It is in his work upon the land and in the dreams he saw to fruition. Nothing we can write will ever be enough to adequately describe the true nature of this man who truly loved nature.
Lay back on that heavenly riverbank, Jim. Tip your beloved Rand hat over your eyes, smile once more and sleep well. It was a good ride, Pardner!