Jim was born Oct. 19, 1923 in Danville, Illinois and lived his youth in Illinois, Ohio, Virginia and California. Tragically his mother died in childbirth, so he was raised by his father (C.H. Dills) and loving step-mothers. He graduated from Huntington Beach High School and went to work in a paper mill to support not only himself, but Margaret Walter (his stepmother) and younger stepbrother. In his early twenties he realized he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life working as a laborer, so enrolled at Citrus College in Glendora, CA.
At this junior college he met the love of his life, Trudy Sturges, and they married Aug. 31, 1948. Pulling a travel trailer, which was to be their home for the next three years, they took their honeymoon on the road to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Jim continued his higher education at the University of New Mexico. After one year, they moved to Colorado, where Jim got his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering (University of Colorado, Boulder) and their first child, James Craig, was born.
After college Jim was hired by Lockheed, where he worked the next 37 years, retiring at age 65. The majority of his employment at this aero-space firm was with the famed top secret “Skunk Works” (Advanced Development Projects), working under Kelly Johnson. Several years past his retirement the family finally learned about his professional accomplishments — Jim helped design the SR-71 Blackbird and F-1117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter, among other secret projects.
Following James Craig’s birth, three girls joined the family: Patricia Anne, Cheryl Louise and Susan Gwenn. In addition, a nephew, David Prince, was added to the family at age four when Trudy’s sister passed away. Jim loved his family dearly and it showed in his actions, always putting family needs first and constantly telling them how much they were loved and a blessing. A favorite family activity was the “Sunday Drive” taken after church. Seldom an announced destination, always an adventure, and 9 times out of 10 would include a stop at some local bakery which his internal bakery-homing skill discovered.
Next to his family, Jim particularly enjoyed aviation, getting his private pilot’s license in the early 1950’s. He was a long-time member of the Capper Flying club (Burbank and Van Nuys airports), taking the family on many memorable flights. He also enjoyed serving as ground crew for Henry Combs, a co-worker and renowned record-holding distant glider pilot. He and his son began building an RV-6 and nearly completed it. He inspired family members with his love of flying, with seven additional pilots among his children, grandchildren and their spouses.
Jim and Trudy’s early years living cozily in the trailer created a life-long love for RV camping. The family took many wonderful trips, somehow cramming five children and two adults into a station wagon pulling a small trailer. Jim used his engineering design skills to create extra dining seating which converted into a bed. When all the children were grown, he once again used his creativity to engineer and modify a Toyota passenger van so it could be easily changed into a camping vehicle when adventure called. After retiring, he and Trudy enjoyed three trips to New Zealand, each time renting camper vans to explore this beautiful country.
Always a church member, Jim was active at the First Presbyterian Church Granada Hills for over 45 years. He was a dedicated volunteer at church, serving in programs to feed the homeless, ushering, greeting and church maintenance.
Jim had a youthful zest for life. He played baseball in junior college, took up square dancing with Trudy for over 25 years, attempted snow skiing for the first time in his 60’s and enthusiastically went on a sailboat vacation with his grandchildren, even though he was known to get seasick on docks. He enjoyed hiking (climbing to the top of Half Dome after he retired) and long walks, which he enjoyed until age 90. He loved small children and had a way of capturing their attention and smiles with his silly antics. He entertained himself and others by his humorous poems and limericks. His one-of-a-kind paper airplane creations out of junk mail became collector items among his family.
After retiring he and Trudy enjoyed traveling, including a bicycle trip in Vermont, overseas travel to Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, England, Scotland and New Zealand. Trudy and Jim celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary nine years ago with a cruise to Alaska in which all their family (but one grandchild) was on board.
For 64 years he and Trudy lived in the San Fernando Valley, with the last 47 years in Northridge, CA. In 2015 they moved north to be closer to his daughter, Patricia, and her family. He and Trudy’s final home was in Hollister, CA.
Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Trudy, plus four children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren: James Craig and wife Robin; Patricia and husband Michael Smith, plus their two children’s families (Travis and Stephanie Smith, children Jonathan and Bailey; Anne-Elyse and Adam Evans and son Benson); Cheryl Louise and her husband Dennis Jones, plus their two children’s families (Corrie with children Zach, Chloe, Londin and Ella; Walter and Christian Jones, daughters Seras and Melody); Susan and husband Doug Rosenberger, plus their children Robert and Jamie (husband Robert Delaune). There are also numerous nieces, nephews, great and great-great nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by his foster son, David.
Jim passed away at home, Tuesday, April 11, 2017 with family at his bedside. He was 93. A celebration of his life and memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 29, 3 pm, at the La Selva Beach Community Church. Reception following. Memorial contributions in his name can be made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital (P. O. Box 50, Memphis, TN 38101), Heartland Hospice Memorial Fund (2511 Garden Rd, Suite A-250, Monterey, CA 93940) or a charity of your choice.