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James Michael Sobota

April 15, 2022 | 12 comments

Our family mourns the death of James Michael Sobota, a wonderful man who served the roles of husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, professor, and mentor with remarkable love, patience, and kindness. James passed away on the 13th of April in the wee hours of the morning at home in the light and love of family and friends. 

James was born August 7, 1944, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to John J. Sobota and Marie Dorothy (Malark) Sobota.  He is survived by his best friend of 62 years and wife of 55 years, Marcia Anne (Klein) Sobota; daughter, Karen (Sobota) Bissonette (James Kirkpatrick); son, Andrew Sobota; grand-daughters Tianna Jo Bell and Wakinyan Win (Danny) Bissonette; great-grandson Ryan James Bell, and 16 nieces and nephews and their children.  James was preceded in death by his three brothers, John Junior, Eugene Stephen, Robert Joseph (Bun) Sobota, their wives, two nephews, and one niece.

During James’ youth he sought opportunity in the outdoors every chance he could. From the hijinks of train hopping to get home from school, to adventuresome canoe trips on the Boundary Waters, James lived his life outside whenever the opportunity presented itself.  As a child he attended St. Anne’s Elementary School, and graduated from De LaSalle High School in 1962.  Despite a rough academic start dealing with a stuttering issue, and other academic deficiencies, James had an orderly and analytical mind, and after learning some academic discipline, he graduated in 1966 from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in Mathematics.  He then attended Michigan State University earning a PhD in Mathematics in 1970. During this intense time of study, he found time to marry his high school sweetheart, Marcia Anne Klein, on June 17, 1967 in Minneapolis, MN.

During his high-school and early college years he was affectionately known to many of his brothers’ children as the “cool uncle”.  He was much younger than his brothers, and thus was in a position to facilitate many interesting adventures among his brothers’ children.  During these years, his mentorship saved his brothers’ and their wives much grey hair as they were often unaware of anything other than that their children were with “uncle Jimmy”.  They had no clue what that meant!

In 1970, He began his career as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and retired as a full professor in May, 2002 and was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus.  He participated in and chaired several committees and projects during his tenure and was an ongoing part of UW-L’s hiring and recruitment process for staffing. He mentored students and new hires alike, always helping to set their expectations for success and providing sincere support for their ability in achieving their potential. New students often sought out his classes, because they had parents who had taken classes from Dr. Sobota.  James remained connected to many of his students throughout their careers and into their retirements. 

He participated in community discussions for transportation and business development, and was an active member and officer of several local fishing and hunting clubs. He won many local fishing tournaments and he could often be seen providing help or guidance to his competitors.  Later in life, he showed the same kindnesses on trout-fishing streams, often giving away valuable tackle and equipment so some younger angler could share in his successes. 

James traveled as much as he could; the family’s RV and campers were in constant use.  His children, Karen and Andrew, shared their father’s enthusiasm for the outdoors, hiking, fishing, and traveling, and wife, Marcia Anne, was frequently along on adventures, to see the scenery and listen to stories.  He spent two summers in Alaska and made so many trips to the Black Hills and Rocky Mountains no one can count them.   Always the curious adventurer, he spent many hours hiking and fishing “just a little bit more” to see what was past the next bend in the creek. 

James continued to teach the occasional class after his “retirement”; he remained active in the University community, just at a slower pace.  With his new freedoms he traveled even more, often with his youngest granddaughter, Wakinyan Win, and picked up a retirement hobby of building bamboo fly rods.  He converted the basement to a rod-making shop and traveled around the country in his RV, or on the train, fishing mountain rivers and going to gatherings of other rod-makers.  Eventually, he joined the Wounded Warriors Project as an instructor of the Healing Waters-Bamboo Bend, a weeklong retreat where veterans came to learn how to build fly rods and find peace in the rhythms of the hand-plane and fly fishing in beautiful places.  And of course, he continued to invest himself as an active and valuable member of the UW-L Mathematics community by helping develop the Learning Center and launching UW-L’s first online classes. In 2012, he was honored by UW-L naming a Mathematics scholarship after him.

James was an adventurer and hard worker.  He set goals and achieved them.  He inspired many students, both in the classroom and on the trout stream, and often heard from them that his patience and dedication to his teaching craft was a gigantic portion of their success. Despite the commendations and compliments, James was a humble man; one who never passed an opportunity to support and uplift others, but also required a person use their own hard work to succeed. 

James was a big presence for all who knew him. For his family, he was its center. He leaves behind the legacy of his work ethic, enthusiasm, knowledge, and creativity to his family. We’re honored to receive these gifts and promise to remember James each time we embark on our own adventures, when we go fishing or hiking; or even when we simply have to spend time doing some math.

Jim, In love and light, we will always miss you.

A Celebration of Life will be held later this summer at a location and time yet to be chosen. 

Memorials may be made to the James Sobota Mathematics Scholarship at https://www.uwlax.edu/foundation/ or to the Bamboo Bend: Handcrafted Healing at www.bamboobend.org. 



  1. Sherri Murphy

    We were so sorry to hear of Jim’s passing. He was a great friend. He
    will be missed by many. Our condolences are extended to his family
    and hope that their beautiful memories of Jim will always sustain them
    through good times and those times when sadness overwhelms us all
    We are sure that Jim might be giving those fishing lessons to the
    angels in heaven.
    Sherri and Francis Murphy

  2. Theresa Schneyer

    Marcia and family, So sorry to learn of Jim’s death. You are in my thoughts and prayers. In sympathy and understanding, Theresa Schneyer

  3. Betsy Morgan

    James was a wonderful teacher and advocate for students. My condolences to the family. (Betsy Morgan, Provost, UWL)

  4. Kerrie Hoar

    Words can’t express how sorry we are to hear of Jim’s passing. The world has lost a beautiful soul. We will miss him greatly.

    Bob, Kerrie, Emily and Sammi Hoar

  5. Scott Grady

    Very sorry for your loss and prayers to all of Jim’s family.

    Jim was an important part of the bamboo rodmaking community and his “convex” taper will live on.

    The Northern Rodmakers Gather members will miss Jim.

  6. Scott Bearden

    Jim was a wonderful man and I enjoyed many conversations with him at several bamboo rodmakers gatherings over the years. He will be missed.

  7. James R Parker

    Jim was one of the first faculty members to join the Pre Collegiate summer program in 1974 which served minority and disadvantaged incoming freshman teaching the Math component for 5 years. His commitment to students of color and willingness to join on weekend activities with his wife and kids was a delight. His gentle good humor was his hallmark and his dedication to his craft and his students was unparalleled, a true gentleman in the kindness construction of that word.

  8. John Tillman

    I would like to extend my condolences to Jim’s family and friends. I enjoyed greatly working with Jim while I was director of Institutional Research at UW-L. I was always impressed with his deep concern for student success. He pushed hard to set the stage to correctly evaluate students’ mathematical needs and then properly address those needs. I am sure he will be missed greatly.

  9. Ressano Machado

    Condolences to the family. We sure enjoyed him, while he was at UWL

  10. Josh Hertel

    Jim was one of the first people I met during my interview at UWL. Even though he had long since retired, Jim continued to welcome new faculty and help us where he could. The Mathematics and Statistics Department is what it is because of Jim. I’m thankful for his kindness, generosity, and guidance.

  11. Gerard R. Weber

    I’m so glad Jim had such an awesome life. We both have a love for fly-fishing. I’ve always regretted that I was part of that unkind teasing when I was very young and unwise and un-understanding. We all got better as compassionate people, I hope, and I’m sure he has forgiven that bad behavior long ago. May he rest in peace!

  12. Pamela Radosen

    Marcia, I am so sorry to learn of Jim’s passing. He was a very kind man, and I know he will be deeply missed by all. My heart is with you and your family.


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