A humble man's life

With a bib attached around his neck, Jim examines his plate of unseasoned chicken and cooked vegetables as he slowly attempts to maneuver his fork into his mouth. Hunched over with his grizzled hair amok, stumbled face and disheveled clothes, he dines with his housemates for their customary 12 p.m. lunch.

Jim's cloudy brown eyes indicate he's only physically present; he is unaware that five simultaneous monologues are taking place at the dining room table. Life hasn't always been like this for Jim Minter.

Born in 1925, Jim grew up in tobacco-laden rural North Carolina with his devoutly Christian grandmother. This quintessential "country kid" arose early to perform his farm chores then walked miles to school while Sundays were consumed serving the Lord.

Southern gentleman

For leisure, he lived the life of Tom Sawyer, hunting for rodents, climbing trees and swimming and fishing in the "crick." Out of necessity, he learned to be self-reliant and innovative. Additionally, ingrained with gracious manners and respect for women and elders, Jim was a walking promotional for the virtues of "Southern hospitality."

Unfortunately, some of his deviant cousins did not appreciate Jim's compliant and obedient nature. For his safety, he was moved to Philadelphia as a teenager to live with an aunt.

With its sprawling metropolis and suffocating row house neighborhoods, he did not find serenity in the city of "brotherly love." When the opportunity arose, Jim dropped out of high school to enlist in the Navy.

Moves to Seattle after Naval tour

As a Navy enlistee, Jim's extensive travel broaden his exposure to the vast world around him. While stationed in Bremerton, he became acquainted with Seattle and vowed to return to this pristine corner of the Northwest. When his tour of duty ended in the early '50s, Jim put down stakes in the Central District and later in South Seattle.

For 35 years this disciplined man awakened at 3:30 a.m. for his eight-to 10-hour days as an airport skycap. Small in stature, the years of lifting luggage provided Jim with a sinewy physique and vice-grip handshake.

Moreover, blessed with an inquisitive mind, serving travelers afforded him an informal education in international affairs, culinary science, geography, world religions and numismatics.

At the age of 38, Jim married a widow with two young daughters. A devoted husband and father, his spare time was spent with his family. This prideful patriarch modeled integrity, self-sufficiency, an appreciation for animals and the wilderness and an acceptance of diverse cultures and ideas.

Stresses education

In addition, later in life, Jim received his GED and was instrumental in both stepdaughters graduating from college and his wife earning an associate of arts degree.

Jim was also an extraordinary handyman, accomplished cook and skillful landscaper. With respect to the latter, he was a pioneer with his yard and food waste composts and organic gardens.

In Jim's late 60s the combination of medical ailments and years of lifting heavy luggage started to take a toll on his body. He realized he could no longer work at his self-imposed high standards, thus he begrudgingly acquiesced, and retired.

This regimented man, accustomed to daily routines who derived meaning and satisfaction from employment, adjusted poorly to retirement's lack of structure.

Shortly after retiring he began to regularly misplace keys and other common household items. Then he had bouts of disorientation whereby he would repeat himself in conversations and not remember familiar people. At this point, a diagnostic test revealed that Jim had Alzheimers, an incurable and progressively debilitating form of dementia that afflicts 4.5 million people.

Finally, in his early 70s, the painful decision to place Jim in Rainier Valley's Buchanan House for Alzheimers patients came when he no longer recognized his wife of 35 years.

This once self-reliant and fiercely proud man is now, like a toddler, completely dependent on caregivers for his survival. This results in a distressing dichotomy in which Jim's friends and family must bear witness to the ravages of this insidious disease while he's oblivious to his own dreadful circumstances.

Comparably as anguishing, despite his polite and gracious demeanor, he is as mindless of his visitors as he is of his condition.

As a poor African American growing up in the segregated South and Philadelphia slums, Jim had numerous impediments to overcome, yet through fortitude and perseverance he has become an accomplished and upstanding citizen.

Furthermore, through his selfless actions, this unassuming sage taught many practical life lessons including: "less is more," "live education," and "we are what we do." Even today, in Jim's own way, he puts into perspective one of life's most precious treasures - the sanctity of health.[[In-content Ad]]