Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Good Man is Gone-Tribute to James Collins

I met James in the Benton City Cemetery and if you knew him you wouldn't think that was particularly odd. I was looking for my great, great grandfather's grave and got James's name and number from the cemetery gate. As it turned out, I had the wrong cemetery, but James jumped in and found the cemetery where my ancestor is buried. You see, that is what James DID. Later I found out why James knew so much about the old Benton City Cemetery. He had completely restored it. It's where his family is buried and he did not like seeing the cemetery overgrown. He didn't just talk about it or organize a committee to do it; he did it, pretty much by himself, because he felt like it was his responsibility. Then he maintained it for years after.

James knew something about every family who ever lived in Atascosa and surrounding counties. He collected information like a stamp collector collects stamps. People brought James pictures, sometimes not knowing who they were of. James didn't care. He would try to solve the mystery. Folks trusted James with their family stories and pictures. He always gave credit to the person who originally gave him the information or picture. James had no problem sharing. It always worked both ways with James. That's how I found out about one of my family lines, someone had given James a book, and he shared it with me. I was only one of many. He was a great genealogist who seemed to look at a project like a huge jigsaw puzzle, and he would not give up until he found that last piece of the puzzle. I learned so much from James Collins.

Evidence of his dedication and tenacity was obvious in the long fight over the Benton City Institute. James spent so much of his time researching the old school and knew the names of each teacher and many of the former students. He started the Benton City Historical Society, and served as president. He had barely gotten started with the restoration of the old building when the eight-year legal battle began. Thank God, he had the support of his good wife, Debbie, behind him during those years. The battle was won, but the years took their toll on the old rock structure. Too bad James couldn't have lived to see the old school restored.

James was part of the Atascosa County Historical Commission for many years and is certainly missed. I know he is missed, not only in the Lytle area, where he lived, but all over the country, by all of the folks he helped over the many years of genealogical work.

He probably would not want this published because he was a modest man, but I'm doing it anyway.



Elaine said...

I loved it.... thank you for honoring James with this tribute.

Elaine Adams

Barbara Morris Westbrook said...

You are so welcome. It is the least I could do. I wish I'd helped him more with the old school and other projects.

Howard Purgason said...

Nice, Barbara.