Jim Rothwell, 78, of La Crosse for the past 40 years and originally from Sioux City, Iowa, died February 6, 2018 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s and dementia.
He was born to Francis and Mabel (Nichols) Rothwell on December 20, 1939, in Sioux City and graduated from East High School there in January 1958. Almost immediately he joined the navy, worked with helicopters and search and rescue, and was honorably discharged in 1962. Most of his working life he ground lenses for eyeglasses and ran a passenger elevator, but his true loves were art, photography, automobiles, and bluegrass banjo.
Jim was an artist. His favorite high school class was art, and among other things, he created a saucy tiger and clever circus cartoons for the cover and section dividers of the 1958 East High Arrow. In later years his talents turned to professional-quality caricatures and satirical cartoons, and he could be counted on to design a humorous class reunion t-shirt.
Jim was a photographer. He shot the 1974 summer theater productions at the University of Northern Iowa, and during another summer he ran an old-time tintype business in McGregor, Iowa. In his spare time there he donned period clothing and climbed the bluffs with an enormous antique wooden camera to take photos of historic paddleboats cruising the Mississippi River.
Jim was an old car nut. He owned and worked on well over thirty antique vehicles during his life, ranging from a 1926 Model T to a 1956 Packard Clipper. He and his brother, Roger, spent many happy (and some frustrating) hours working on, trading parts for, and discussing their cars.
Jim was an excellent banjo player. He performed with the Pine Street Singers, the Rusty Gnash Ramblers, and the Sordid Folk Singers, and when younger played informally with Roger and their friends. He went to school to learn string instrument repair and had a short career rehabilitating fiddles, basses, guitars, and mandolins. He also built, hand-carved, and inlaid several exquisite and fine-sounding banjos for himself, for friends, and for sale.
Besides all this, Jim collected things, from carburetors to Monty Python action figures. He was quietly generous. He was an afficionado of old movies, from World War II submarine films to very bad science fiction flicks. He wanted people to think he was a reclusive curmudgeon, but inside he was a softie. Although he was a very private person and few knew about his talents, those close to him admired his work and appreciated his dry wit. He always made us laugh.
He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Sue Knopf; his sister-in-law, Joane Engel; two nephews, Jon Rothwell and Pat Rothwell, and their children; and some very close and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Roger. Thanks to Dr. Mary Bassing, Dr. Rachel Biemiller, Gundersen Hospice, Brightstar, the Merit Center, the EXPAND program, Coulee Region Cremation Group, and the many cheerful, competent, and compassionate caregivers who looked after Jim as his health declined.
An informal open house celebrating Jim’s life will be held Saturday, February 17, 2018, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in People’s Food Co-op’s community room, 315 5th Avenue South, La Crosse.