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  • Jim of all trades, master of them all

  • As a youngster in the hardscrabble hamlet of Kerby in the late 1950s and 1960s, I wouldn't have had the foggiest what the word "baroque" meant.
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  • As a youngster in the hardscrabble hamlet of Kerby in the late 1950s and 1960s, I wouldn't have had the foggiest what the word "baroque" meant.
    It wasn't in our vernacular. If I were to hazard a juvenile guess, I would have suggested it had something to do with belching with your mouth full.
    After all, my childhood chums would have found any interest that didn't involve hunting and fishing downright peculiar, if not outright heresy.
    I left my childhood and the Illinois Valley in the rearview mirror before Jim Rich entered that picturesque place nestled in the rugged mountains south of Grants Pass.
    In 1974, he established the Takilma Forge and Wagon Works, which he operated until he passed away on June 23 of this year in his rustic home in Takilma. He was 68.
    At the time, he was preparing for the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra's fall and winter concerts. Jim, who could play numerous baroque instruments, including the harpsichord, founded the orchestra in 1994.
    Indeed, he was more than an accomplished blacksmith. He was also a knowledgeable musical historian, a talented musician and a sailor of tall ships. Tying it all together was a lifelong appreciation for the baroque period, that creative time from 1600 to 1750.
    Incidentally, the orchestra's fall schedule, which he helped prepare, includes a concert beginning at 7 p.m. Oct. 19, in the Newman Methodist Church, 132 NE B St., Grants Pass. The other fall performance begins at 3 p.m. Oct. 20, at First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.
    Ticket information and additional concert info is available at www.jeffersonbaroque.org/JBO-season-concerts.html.
    When I had the good fortune to finally meet Jim in the early 1980s, I was writing for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. A reader had called to suggest he would make a great feature subject.
    The caller was right. And it wasn't simply because he was a blacksmith working under a spreading oak tree with a coal-fired forge and hammer and tongs.
    Jim, then in his mid-30s, was brilliant, pleasant and just plain fascinating. Here was a former classical record producer from the Big Apple who could talk with authority about forging tools, sailing tall-masted ships and baroque composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Georg Philipp Telemann.
    In the Illinois Valley, no less.
    We chatted periodically over the years, and I interviewed him again for a June 20, 1993, article in the Mail Tribune about the melding of the counter-culture community and the older Illinois Valley lifestyle. The blacksmith, then 48, was head of the music department at Rogue Community College.
    "It's not that we changed that much," he said of fellow Takilma residents. "The rest of the valley changed, too. They saw us putting ideals into practice."
    It was Jim's ideals that prompted Jefferson Baroque Orchestra member Stephen Edward Bacon of Ashland to recently send an email suggesting a column on that remarkable human being.
    "Jim was built and made of the stuff of an era when integrity, intelligence, strength, independence and moral character were of a higher order," Stephen wrote. "A true Jeffersonian. He was on par with a great many of the old-timers of our area I have met who were loggers, prospectors and farmers."
    In his extemporaneous talks before a concert, Jim would easily build a bridge between the present and the centuries since the music had been written, he marveled.
    "Physically he was strong, yet never intimidating," he noted. "Mentally he was bright but never condescending. Spiritually he was driven and always an inspiration."
    In 2007, Jim, a graduate of Northwestern University and Hunter College of The City University of New York, was inspired to help create the Oregon Bach Collegium. The group is dedicated to supporting early music performances throughout the state.
    "Jim's kindness, his humor, his gentlemanly demeanor, and his ability to tell the contextual history behind the music brought us all into his world of delight," wrote Margret Gries, OBC's music director and co-director of the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra.
    But it isn't just in the world of music where he left an influence.
    Right here in the MT newsroom, Forrest Roth, a young copy editor, served as a blacksmith apprentice for Jim before he went to the dark side, entering the world of journalism. Like all who knew him, Forrest speaks highly of the friendly fellow who mastered all things baroque.
    One of Jim's best friends was Delbert Kauffman, 79, a Takilma neighbor and his walking buddy for 30 years.
    "We would talk about everything as we walked," Delbert recalled. "He had such a great memory. He used to relate entire segments of 'The Simpsons.' And books, he remembered them all.
    "He had read every book Patrick O'Brian wrote — all 28 of them," he added. "He would recite passages from all of them."
    His friend, who had achieved the rank of sailing captain just before he died, represented the best of the officers in those wonderful books, which included "Master and Commander," Delbert will tell you.
    "He had the manner of a fine 18th-century gentleman, that was Jim," Delbert said. "He was quite a guy."
    Indeed, he was. Our world sorely needs more like him, now more than ever.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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