Lonny James (“Jim”) Wakefield, 78, of Versailles, Ohio, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, November 5, 2020, after being diagnosed in early summer 2020 with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He was born March 20, 1942, in Yakima, Wash., to the late James A. and Thelma (Orloske) Wakefield.
At the time of Jim’s birth, his father was in the Army Air Force, flying B-17 Bombers over Germany during World War II. When Jim’s father returned from the war, the family lived on South Pearl Street in Centralia, Wash. A quiet child, Jim was so shy that a favorite teacher gave him a statue of Bashful, one of the Seven Dwarves. Jim attended Jefferson Elementary until his family bought a farm at the head of the Big Hanaford Valley outside of Centralia and started raising mink. One of Jim’s many jobs on the farm involved dragging hoses down through the seemingly endless aisles of the mink sheds to water the 6000 mink, each in its own cage. Jim’s childhood was not all work, however. When Jim was twelve years old, his father gave him a shotgun and simply said, “Go hunting”. He did, and, after that, bird and deer hunting became an important part of his life. He also read voraciously.
Jim graduated from Centralia High School in 1960 and entered Centralia College. Uncertain about his future, he pondered enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, as many of his friends had done. However, as he was about to set pen to paper to sign the final Air Force enlistment papers, “something” told Jim to wait. When he went home that evening, he was met by his Uncle Glen and Aunt Agnes Hansey, who invited him to travel to Ohio to learn the highly skilled profession of chick sexing. That “something” that told Jim to rethink his plans helped determine the course of the rest of his life.
Jim arrived in Versailles, Ohio in 1961 and began the arduous task of learning his new trade. Poultry sexing required keen eyesight, the ability to maintain focus for long periods of time, and the skill and stamina to maintain almost 100% accuracy while processing thousands of chicks per hour. By the next spring, Jim was proficient enough to start earning a living at his new profession. Jim would work as a chick sexor for 55 years, as his skills were in demand even when he was in his seventies, when he earned the nickname the “Big Ten Chick Sexor” for his work at mid-western universities.
Jim, in spite of his shyness, began to make friends in his adopted town, and, in June of 1962, he decided to attend a teen dance during the famous Poultry Days celebration. At the dance, he asked several girls to dance, but each refused, being unimpressed with the gangly out-of-towner who towered over most of the other attendees. Finally, a cute, dark-haired girl named Suzanne agreed to dance. Although she was more than a foot shorter than Jim, somehow they fit together well on the dance floor. Jim asked her on a date, and two years later on August 1, 1964, they married, entering into a union that would last Jim’s entire life. Jim taught his bride the skill of poultry sexing, and they worked together for over 45 years.
In 1969, with baby daughter Lisa in tow, Jim and Suzanne moved back to Washington to take a job at a hatchery in Bellingham. They bought a small house along Bellingham Bay, with views of Mt. Baker in the distance, and had two more daughters, twins Laura and Linda. They became avid gardeners during this time, and Jim bought a speed boat and spent many hours fishing for salmon on Bellingham Bay and for steelhead trout on the Nooksack and other rivers. Jim also became a proficient shotgun trap shooter, winning the Washington State Singles title, breaking 199 of 200 targets.
After five years in Bellingham, the hatchery closed, and Jim loaded up his young family for the long trip back to Ohio. Several years later he had the foresight to purchase a parcel of wooded land near their home in Versailles. In an area of flat farmland, the ten acres of hardwoods provided a sanctuary where Jim could hunt and cut firewood. He soon garnered the nicknames “Cordwood” and “Firewood”, as he sold many cords of wood in the area. Later, when the cost of his trap shooting hobby became exorbitant, Jim began golfing. He fell in love with the sport, winning a club championship and placing fourth with his team in the Pabst Ohio Golf Scramble. Jim also started covering Versailles High School sporting events for the local newspapers. His photos and articles covering basketball, football, wrestling and other sports were well-loved by the Versailles community, and in 1990 he was named Versailles Booster of the Year, along with his brother Vaughn.
Throughout this time, Jim continued his profession, owning his own poultry sexing business for many years. He was involved in activities to support American poultry sexors, and even testified in front of a U.S. congressional committee in Washington, D.C. regarding labor issues related to the industry.
Later, when their daughters left home, Jim and Suzanne moved to a country home outside of the tiny burg of Brinkhaven, in eastern Ohio. Their ten acres of land lay amidst thousands of acres of woods with extraordinary deer hunting. Jim spent many happy hours sitting in a tree stand with his bow, and taking his grandchildren on their first hunts. He also continued pursuing his interest in genealogy, mapping his family’s roots and even writing a book for his grandchildren entitled “My Grandchildren’s Ancestors”.
In 2016 Jim suddenly collapsed while entering a home improvement store, suffering a cardiac arrest. Amazingly, the store happened to be next door to the local hospital, and a store employee happened to be a CPR instructor. Jim was helicoptered to Ohio State University Hospital, although he was not expected to survive. However, his condition slowly improved, and the hospital staff deemed his eventual recovery miraculous. After this, Jim finally retired from poultry sexing, and moved back to Versailles, Ohio to be near his daughters and their families. He continued to enjoy golfing, socializing with friends, and spending winters in Texas, slowing down only when ALS began to take its toll. Suzanne lovingly cared for him 24/7 through his final days.
Notwithstanding his many interests and accomplishments, Jim’s first priority was his family. His wife Suzanne was the love of his life, and he was a devoted father and grandfather. His greatest joy in later years was spending time with his nine grand-children. Words cannot express how much Jim will be missed by his family.
Jim was preceded in death by his parents, as well as by his infant son James Robert Wakefield,; his sister, Karen LeDuc; and his brother, Vaughn Wakefield.
Jim is survived by his wife of 56 years, Suzanne (Magoteaux) Wakefield; and his daughters, Lisa (Mark) Barga, Laura (Jonathan Keihl) Wakefield, and Linda (Daniel) Ahrens, of Versailles, Ohio. He is also survived by his siblings, Cheryl (Jim) Williams of Dallas, Ore., John Wakefield of Centralia, Wash., Lynn (Bo) Wakefield-Rickard of Centralia, Wash., Greg (Cathy) Wakefield of Atwater, Calif., and his sister-in-law, Rita Wakefield of Versailles, Ohio; and brother-in-law, Greg LeDuc of Centralia, Wash., as well as by his grandchildren, Jacob, Jace, Sam and Jadyn Barga; Louden, Brayden and Kendall Keihl; and Lucas and Evie Ahrens, all of Versailles, Ohio.
Services were held for Jim in Versailles, Ohio. A private graveside service will be held at a later date at St. Valbert’s Cemetery. Condolences for the family may be expressed at www.zecharbailey.com