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Jim Pendleton remembered ‘as an icon in the Rogue River Basin’

TALENT — Longtime Talent Irrigation District manager Jim Pendleton never met a stranger, say those closest to him. And if you were lucky enough to be part of his family or circle of friends, you probably benefited from one of his infamous heart-to-heart talks, his sense of humor or his guitar playing.

Pendleton passed away unexpectedly May 29, days before his 63rd birthday, after an allergic reaction to antibiotics.

Pendleton began his career in irrigation as a teenager, helping to manage the region’s water supply and serve property owners. Manager of the Talent-based district for 21 years, he’d managed the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District for nearly as long before.

Born June 8, 1958, James Jack “Jim” Pendleton was born in Tacoma, Washington, to Glover and Faye Pendleton. The family moved to Southern Oregon when Pendleton was a baby and he grew up watching his father manage the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District.

As a teen, he worked on local farms, lit smudge pots in orchards and worked for the region’s water districts. He wrestled for Crater High, later served as a coach and was an avid supporter of his children and grandchildren in their athletic pursuits. A music lover, he played guitar in a local country western band with family members and passed his love of music on to his kids and grandchildren.

Dawn Pendelton said the outpouring of support from around the state since her husband’s passing has been a comfort. Pendleton received a condolence letter from the Bureau of Reclamation calling her husband “an icon in the Rogue River Basin.”

“His family already thought he was wonderful and, of course, that he hung the moon, but we’re finding out more and more how popular he was with everyone else, too,” she said.

“His grandkids always called him the water god. Every time we would pass any body of water, my grandkids would say, ‘There’s Papa’s water!’ So many people have reached out to us with stories and memories. He was a very special man.”

Married for their entire adult lives, Jim and Dawn raised daughters, Autumn Mercer and April Pendleton, and a son, Wally Pendleton. They shared five grandchildren and a slew of “bonus” kids and grandkids.

“The idea of life without Jim has really pulled the rug out from under me. We dated in high school, and we were together most of our lives. We’d have been married 45 years July 15. We did a lot of growing up together. His crazy sense of humor and mine kept us going,” she said.

“He was the oldest son, and I was the youngest daughter. He always thought he was in charge, but I knew I was running things. He was just getting ready to retire and have fun chasing the grandkids around with wrestling and baseball and all the things we loved.”

April Pendleton said her father valued family above all else.

“Family was huge for my dad, and my grandparents were the same way. They were big on don’t stay mad at each other and don’t leave without telling everyone you love them because it could always be the last time you might see them,” she said.

“He taught me to throw a ball and taught me about wrestling. … He taught us to be responsible and accountable. Honesty was huge.”

Jodi Merritt, one of Pendleton’s bonus daughters, said his legacy was one of living a good life and doing things right.

Jim Pendleton

“With our kids, if we ever had any issues, we’d say, ‘What would Papa tell you?’ And they’d straighten up immediately. Everybody was welcome in his house, and we were all considered his children even if we weren’t,” she said.

“He was always there for anyone who needed him and always texted his kids and grandkids to tell them he loved them.”

A favorite achievement, Pendleton and his son, Wally, worked to achieve their second-degree black belts when Pendleton was 49. He was a beloved teacher at ABK.

On the work front, Pendleton was reliable, funny and offered vast institutional memory, guiding TID through the pandemic and last year’s devastating Almeda fire. Wanda Derry, assistant manager at TID, worked with Pendleton at Rogue River Valley Irrigation and moved to TID with Pendleton in November 2000.

“When he changed jobs, I didn’t necessarily want to move, but he said he wouldn’t take the job unless I came with him. We worked together for 37 years,” Derry said.

“He was who he was, and he was the same way with everybody. He was just such a constant for so many years. He knew everything there was to know and could remember everything about the system.”

Derry said Pendleton was a joy to be around, adding, “He was personable and funny. He loved to scare people and would just laugh and laugh, he thought he was so funny. He’d talk to you like he’d known you forever, whether he had or not.”

Dawn Pendleton said her husband’s love for his family has been a comfort in their grief.

“He was a good guy, integrity wise, and he preached that to our kids and grandkids. Be respectful, stand up for yourself and defend yourself but not at the cost of someone else. Don’t lie and don’t hurt other people. Don’t be muddying up our name, and be sure to do good,” she said.

“If he liked you, he was gonna irritate the living daylights out of you. He was just the best person there ever was and we will miss him forever.”

A Celebration of Life will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 17 at Emigrant Lake recreation area B. Hors d’oeuvres and water will be provided. Visitors are asked to bring favorite stories to share.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Crater High School wrestling, mailed (or dropped off) to Crater High, 655 N. Third St., Central Point, 97502. Checks must be made payable to Crater High Wrestling.