James Paul Iaquinta was born to eternal life on Friday, February 18, at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, WI, after hospitalization on Christmas Eve. Born May 20, 1947, to James (“Jay”) and Shirley (Weyrauch) Iaquinta, Jim attended Bain Elementary, McKinley Jr. High, and Tremper High School, graduating in 1965. He earned a B.A. from Carthage College in 1969, as a math and theater arts major.
Jim devoted his life to his acting career, performing in many productions by many theater companies in the southeastern WI area and founding the Wisconsin Actors Ensemble. He later earned an accounting degree from Gateway Technical College to expand his theater administration skills. Before pursuing his acting career, he taught drama and English in the early 1970s at Tremper High School.
Jim, a committed stage actor, was well known for his many character roles, especially in A Dickens of a Christmas Carol and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe—Tales from the Dark Side. Over the years, Jim performed at theaters and venues in Minneapolis, MN, and in southeastern WI, including Broadway Baby Dinner Theatre, Memories Dinner Theater, M &W Productions Classic Children’s Theatre, Apple Holler Dinner Theater, Uncorkt, and Hobnob. Jim also acted in both feature and industrial training films.
For years at Christmastime Jim relished his role as Santa Claus at the mall. In later years Jim worked for Lad Lake of Milwaukee as a youth counselor, where he helped many young people and was highly respected for his success. Jim was an avid and knowledgeable sports fan, devoted to the Packers, Bucks, and Brewers. He was proud to be a Packer stockholder since 1991 and often watched games with his close friends. In retirement, Jim was employed at Wernimont Park Golf Course clubhouse in Cudahy.
Jim was preceded in death by his mother, father, and brother Timothy. He is survived by his sister, Alice Iaquinta, West Bend, WI; brothers, David (Pam) Iaquinta, Lincoln, NE, and Peter (Annie) Iaquinta, Madison, WI; and many nieces, nephews, and loving extended family. Additionally, he is survived by his “family” of close friends.
A CAST OF CHARACTERS:
These are the “facts” of Jim’s life, but they only outline the Jim/Jimmy that we knew. Hear the voices of his family of friends, those who knew Jim best as his emotional companions in life’s journey:
- Len Iaquinta – To me Jim was a brother.
- Jerry Shawl – So many will miss Jimmy. It’s like the color in the world just went out.
- Joe Burton – Always placing the needs of others above his own; he leaves this world a lesser place with his passing, and I will miss him greatly.
- Ted Tyson – That was Jimmy. Looking forward to helping. A memory made even sweeter for having to say goodbye for now. And yet I feel Jimmy with me, I feel his friendship and I feel his support. He hasn’t left me.
- Lori Minnetti – He is a national treasure to me, and I will love him and hold in my heart for always!
- Peter Shuttleworth – I have memories of your parents and home in Kenosha. We were so young and full of life. Continue to celebrate that for us, and for Jimmy.
- The Sibling Chorus – Alice, David, and Peter
Cousin Leonard Iaquinta has known Jim throughout his life from a special vantage point. Len was part of the Iaquinta clan, one bound together by the bonds among the parents’ generation of siblings. Len was drawn into Jim’s orbit in a special way being just a couple of years older and an only child. As Len says, To me Jim was a brother. Jim was the only male cousin who was nearly my age. We developed a bond that transcended time and place. We could count on each other. His faith inspired me.
Thus, over the years, Jim and Len formed a friendship that transcended simply familial bonds, one born out of respect, reciprocity, and love. It is likely that no one had as complete a picture of Jim and the meaning of his life than Len, and this showed clearly as he stepped forward to shepherd Jim and his affairs through the final scene of his third act. It is not possible to convey the deep respect and appreciation that all of us—family and friends—share for the care, professionalism, and clear-eyed love that Len provided for Jim while he was with us. In Len’s own words we see the measure of Jim.
Len Iaquinta: Jim believed it was possible to live out and teach the words of Jesus in the contemporary world. His faith was profoundly solid and faithfully childlike. Much of his theatrical work was overtly or covertly hopeful, empathic, evangelical.
Jim believed in the power of theatre. Living to perform and engage an audience animated him. Working in theatre and video, he remained true to his dream of centering his life on performing whenever he could.
Jim loved to give presents as Jim, not just as in his magnificent portrayals of Santa with that convincing costume and beard. It was important to him to express his love in words and deeds. The last items he intended to purchase were Packers Yearbooks for a brother and for a nephew. Jim wanted to share and celebrate the Packers passion the three shared.
In the years Jim worked for Lad Lake (Milwaukee) as a youth counselor, he helped many young people. The executive director highly regarded Jim’s work. I learned this at a national professional conference when the executive director buttonholed me over my surname and proceeded to rave about Jim’s effectiveness—or was it, ministry?
Whether kaleidoscope or faceted jewel, Jim’s life had various interwoven dimensions. Len has outlined them, and in three acts Jim’s family and friends speak to these varied dimensions of Jim’s life.
ACT 1: Growing up in Kenosha with the family, immediate and extended
The Scene – Kenosha, Wisconsin, circa 1950–1965
As siblings, Alice, Peter, and David each have their own closet full of memories, yet many of these are lodged in a long ago past when we shared the daily rhythms of life with Jimmy on 22nd Avenue and later 38th Avenue. Jimmy, that’s how we knew him. As David recounts, He was always Jimmy to me, and in truth I was always Davey to him. In fact, from Jim’s college years and into my adulthood, Jimmy’s friends were the only people sanctioned to call me Davey. This is a testimony to the love Jimmy shared, his spirit could penetrate even your identity. These were the days of Jim’s First Act—his early years with us.
Thinking about early years with Jim, so many images come to mind growing up:
- Big sister holding newborn Jimmy in her three-year old arms, and years later pedaling with Jimmy standing on the back of the three-wheeled bike hanging on for dear life, and yelling, “faster, Allie, faster” (kids didn’t wear helmets back then!);
- Endless hours playing school with big sister schoolmarm and “let me play too” little brother;
- The weeks on end that he spent in bed with rheumatic fever—the defining experience to which he attributed his ability to live in his mind creating his own amusement and world and ultimately setting him on his lifelong artist’s journey;
- The weeks we spent in bed with German measles cooped up together like monkeys, driving each other to the boundaries of laughter (“what if”) and antagonism (“you’re on my side”);
- Time spent in quarantine with the notice on the front door when Alice had scarlet fever when no one could leave the house (Dad taught himself to play the harmonica and carved some amazing primitive heads from wooden dowels);
- Playing “pies” in the winter snow in jackets and leggings that made us look like Ralphie from A Christmas Story; and in the summer playing kick the can in the alley at grandma’s house;
- Birthday parties with the Weyrauch cousins making black cows that overflowed on the dining room table to the considerable consternation of Aunt Shirley;
- Sunday trips to Milwaukee to visit the Karnes, and ending the day watching home movies in the basement of our “younger” days;
- Backyard plays put on for the neighborhood, especially the one where Alice learns to like animals on the farm and not be afraid;
- Prancing around the neighborhood playing dress up, often in drag;
- Building uncountable forts in the backyard out of refrigerator and dryer boxes scavenged from Viganski’s Appliance Store;
- Whiling away hours with his science fiction paperback library in the tree house we built that dwarfed the little apple tree in the Gillespie’s backyard;
- Walking the alleys to Roosevelt Elementary school, stomping in puddles, and stopping by Crandall’s corner store to buy penny candy (wax lips, shoestring licorice, and fake candy cigarettes);
- 4:00 a.m. mornings delivering the Milwaukee and Chicago newspapers across a wide swath of the city pulling the homemade wooden trailer behind the bicycle and again delivering the Kenosha News in after-school paper routes;
- “Motorizing” our bikes in the summer with clothespinned baseball cards and balloons that roared as the spokes spun past;
- Biking to Southport Beach on Lake Michigan to spend the day swimming and diving from the breakwaters till our lips were blue, trekking across the sand dunes until our throats were parched, and leaping from the lake cliffs until someone sprained an ankle or we had just had enough adventure;
- Playing with the neighbor boys in the old turkey farm making forts in the holes left by massive trees overturned by the tornado with their roots rising over our heads;
- Digging caves and passageways into the snow piles from the parking lot on the block so we could engage in snowball battles royale;
- Playing baseball at the empty parking lot, hitting home runs through Zuehlsdorff’s dining room window twice before Tom the bartender bought us a 12” ball at Isermann’s Hardware to play with so we wouldn’t put the “league” through the window again;
- Sleeping on army cots on the screened-in front porch all summer and partaking of nighttime antics;
- Countless treks to Roosevelt Park to ice-skate for hours on our new Christmas hockey skates, and in the summer to “Little park” to play pickup baseball—bounce-or-fly, scrub, or teams, depending on who showed up that day;
- New Year’s Eve watching the Marx Brothers and the “Road” movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, feasting on Valeo’s cheese, sausage, and mushroom pizza and ice cream cake roll on the hide-a-bed till midnight;
- Babysitting Peter and Tim on Saturday nights, watching “professional” wrestling with Killer Kowalski, Dick the Bruiser, and Verne Gagne (we broke Mom’s Lincoln bust twice and managed to glue it together without being discovered—the hole in the wall was quite another story); and
- The annual Iaquinta and Weyrauch family picnics and Christmas celebrations.
It is a rich tapestry of memories, and clearly the warp and woof of Jim’s life was already set on the loom of life in these early years: his love of acting, his capacity to imagine, his skill at shape-shifting his identity into a multitude of characters. This is where I learned how to imagine and its importance in a balanced life. Jimmy was an instrumental guide in helping me develop this capacity, says David. With all the normal sibling rivalries, Jimmy was always my older brother, guide, friend and—when needed—protector. Later in college we would transition to equals and become even better friends. Friends that shared their friendships with others, extending the network of confidants, creativity, and abundant living.
ACT 2: Jim’s Carthage college days and the lifelong friendships he made there
The Scene – Carthage College and Xanadu Days, circa 1965–1972
This is where Jim refined the platform of his life as an actor and performer. It was here that he met many of his lifelong friends. Some became a part of the house Jim owned after college. They were the members of his tribe in the home they called Xanadu: Chris, Billy, Darryl (Uncle Sleezy), Linda Alice, Billy, and others. A zany collection of friends living unconventional lives in an unconventional era. Now Jimmy shares the Xanadu of afterlife with two of these dear friends, Chris and Darryl.
Peter Shuttleworth: Jimmy and I have been friends for over forty years. From Kenosha and Carthage (I learned to play cribbage and euchre!) thru the eighties and shows and his community commitments. Many shared friends. And some very aggressive bridge games over the years.
We enjoyed his art and love of community arts. There were many wonderful shows, and his talents and love of the stage always showed through. Milwaukee funded the arts then, and Jim helped bring them into the neighborhoods joining with other artists.
Jerry Shawl shares the following humorous story. There was the time I paid Jimmy to take a required math course for me, Statistics. I got an “A” first semester, then the second semester happened. “I” registered, but to our surprise the professor for second semester knew me. So, Jimmie lost his job, and I didn’t get an “A.”
And Jerry goes on to elaborate how this formative period persisted through Jim’s life in ever-expanding ripples of association and care. I came back from Oregon to visit my mother every year for a week or so. I would fly into Milwaukee, and Jimmie would pick me up at the airport and take me to Woodstock to see my mother. Everyone in my family loved him and would ask about him frequently when I would call. Jimmie and I would meet with our old friends from college and Kenosha. Jimmie had many friends. When he came to Oregon we even found he had four friends living here from Carthage that he hadn’t seen for many years. So every summer was a homecoming for us all.
Ted Tyson did not meet Jim until years later, yet Jim’s college years affected him through their common passions for theater and sports. An avid sports fan and a proud owner of stock in the Green Bay Packers, Jimmy even managed to squeeze in a year as a college football player for Carthage around 1970. That’s right. Jimmy played college football. How cool is THAT?
ACT 3: Jim’s craft; Jim’s passions; Jim’s “ministry”
Scene 1 – The Theatre
Lori Minnetti: I met Jimmy at an audition for a role in STUD, a production for his theatre company Wisconsin Actors Ensemble. Fortunately, I was cast, and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He changed my life. Jimmy was already an accomplished professional actor and director with credits in Wisconsin and Minneapolis. I learned so much from him and always trusted his insight. We became lifelong friends and fellow thespians, performing in many productions for almost 40 years. He was blessed with amazing talent, energy, intelligence, and compassion. Jimmy could do it all—act, direct, write, produce, promote, and create and build sets. Jimmy will always be a favorite actor of mine, so diverse and magnetic!
Highlights of productions we collaborated on include: LOVE LETTERS, THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF, THE REAL STORY OF SANTA CLAUS (written by Jimmy), LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS, THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL (amazing direction by Jimmy!), SWING DANCE, THE MAN WITH THE PLASTIC SANDWICH (fantastic performance by Jimmy), and NOT NOW, DARLING. The theaters and venues we worked at together include: Broadway Baby Dinner Theatre, Memories Dinner Theater, M &W Children’s Theater, Apple Holler Dinner Theater, Uncorkt, and Hobnob. Jimmy had already been in a Bill Rebane film, RANA: THE LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE, and brought me to a film audition, and we both were cast in THE COLD. Jimmy was always supportive and generous with other performers. He would let us know of auditions, as well as have the time to work on lines or character development.
I will always cherish the process and result of creating AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE–TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE and our interactive version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I am so proud of those shows, and they will always have a special place in my heart. We got to perform the Edgar Allan Poe show as part of the Big Read Event sponsored by the Kenosha Public Library at the Kemper Center. What a magical event, and Jimmy was of course spectacular!
Amanda Hull: Jim was a beloved member of our theatre community. His contagious laugh and great creative talent will be remembered vividly and fondly. He was one of the first people I acted with out of college and was always there when needed. I will miss him very much.
Ted Tyson: Back in 1989 I landed a gig doing an industrial film for GE, and I was told I’d be one of a pair of cavemen. When I arrived at 4 a.m. for the shoot, I was greeted by a man in bare feet with his hair tangled up, dirt all over his face, wearing some kind of animal skin costume and holding a giant raw turkey leg. It was Jimmy. We spent the next five hours under bright lights jumping around and singing songs in caveman gibberish and generally behaving like a couple of men out of their gourds. It was a blast. Jimmy spent a good bit of time filling me in on details of what had already been a very interesting life and successful acting career—sharing stories, offering advice, acting silly, joking around. And thus, began a friendship that lasted over 30 years.
The past 15 years I grew closer to Jimmy, as I had the tremendous fortune of working with him and with our dear friend Lori Minnetti as part of their company the Wisconsin Actors Ensemble, our signature play being A Dickens of a Christmas Carol, a unique adaptation, which we performed in various venues over the years.
Jimmy chose a cutting that Dickens himself had used when touring the United States in the 19th century, and his reading of the story would have made the author truly proud. It was special.
There’s no footage of the Dickens show, but there IS a digital copy of The Domino Heart, by Morning Star Productions, in which Jimmy does some of his absolute best work. I haven’t seen the video yet but am hopeful it does justice to the live performance. It’s a poignant piece, and Jimmy was never stronger.
Scene 2 – The Passions: His Craft, Sports, the Oregon Country Fair
Ted Tyson: Jimmy had a fun life and a full life. He performed in hundreds of plays across a career that spanned over a half century, he taught high school in Kenosha for a stretch, was a valued mentor for young people, and once lived in London for an entire theater season in 1975.
More recently, during the pandemic, I spent a good deal of time on Jimmy’s porch, trips to his house being my main social life during the lockdown. Once out of quarantine, we got to celebrate at MY house together with my brother Terry by watching the Milwaukee Bucks win their first championship in 50 years. There were hugs all around. Jubilation and joy.
Whether we were working on a theater project or talking politics or cheering on the Packers, Jimmy was passionate and committed to excellence rooted in ethical standards. He wanted to win in sports and in the theater and in our country, and he wanted to do it the right way, with honesty and with integrity and with kindness.
Jerry Shawl: Four decades and some more years ago, Jimmie packed me up and I moved to Oregon. At some point the Grateful Dead were going to play a benefit at the OREGON COUNTRY FAIR. Darryl Sink was going to sell ice there, and Jimmie was invited to come and help sell ice, a noble endeavor indeed. Dr. Leary, Andrew Weil, Ken Kesey, and Baba Ram Dass were there. Jimmie arrived, and Jerry Garcia had heart problems, probably the shock of being able to meet Jimmie. The benefit did not happen, but Jimmie was here, saw the fairgrounds, and got hooked. The next year and for thirty some years he came to the fair every summer and worked and partied at the pizza booth. He would come a week or two before the fair, and he would help me set up the water, electrical, and propane systems and get all the equipment working. When the fair started we mostly enjoyed the food, music, and vaudeville acts. If we did our job well with the equipment before the fair, we could party for most of the fair. But something always broke down, and we would swing into action.
Later I would go to town, usually around sunup, to sleep in a real bed, leaving Jimmie in charge of engineering until I returned. Jimmie would go to the fair and camp for close to a week, not coming into town until the fair was over, where he experienced reality shock after being insulated from “normal” reality. Darryl Sink, Uncle Sleezy, referred to the fair as the “Patchouli Scented Brigadoon.” Eventually Jimmie and I became fair elders.
Scene 3 – “The Ministry”
Joe Burton: It is with considerable sadness that I say goodbye to my colleague and personal friend James P. Iaquinta, AKA Jimmy the Progressive Christian as he was known on my podcast, The Liberal Redneck Show. I am not a religious person but was always amazed with the insights Jimmy provided on the show. His true biblical knowledge was incredible. My favorite story was his explanation of the parable “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” According to Jimmy, the Needle was a legendary, very narrow street in Jerusalem, regularly used by merchants and their heavily loaded camels. It was extremely difficult for a camel packed with trade goods to squeeze through the narrow street to get from one area to another. His explanation made the story real to me, and I will cherish his sharing of it for the rest of my life.
Jimmy lived a humble life. His home was in a largely Black section of Milwaukee, and he took pride in being the only white person who lived there. He made it his goal to help his fellow neighbors any way he could. A young man in his neighborhood was struggling to put together enough money for school clothes by shoveling the snow from sidewalks and driveways with a badly overused shovel. Jimmy, who was not a wealthy man, took pity and gave the young man his snowblower, of which he was very proud, so he could reach his goal. That is the kind of man he was.
Lori Minnetti: Jimmy was a true-blue friend. My sister Lisa and I many times would have car trouble or need a ride, and Jimmy would be there to help and sometimes even fix the problem with just a moment’s notice. He would be under the car with a coat hanger or a special fluid he had in his well-stocked trunk. I will also always cherish the great fun we had golfing with our mutual friend Jeff. They both were always so positive and encouraging of my game, if you could even call it that. Last summer Jimmy was playing some of the best golf of his life!
Ted Tyson: The first word that comes to mind when I think of Jimmy is “indefatigable.” Webster offers a number of synonyms: assiduous, conscientious, diligent, meticulous, determined, dogged, persevering, persistent, relentless, steady, stubborn, tenacious…all apt descriptions of my friend Jim Iaquinta.
Jimmy always tried to be there for friends and strangers alike. He was always working on solutions to problems all around, always thinking of ways he could help out the people that he knew and the ones that he didn’t. Which basically covers everybody. He would never have given up until every single person on the planet was happy and doing OK. He was indefatigable. He had a fun life and a full life.
Jerry Shawl: Jim would help anyone that needed help at the fair, sometimes entertaining young children. When he was not at the fair he would spend hours on his computer mentoring people back in Milwaukee. He would spend hours with Eve [Jerry’s partner] reciting her poetry and performing for her. They developed a bond and had many hours of creative times. Eve said sometimes he would recite her poems and get the words wrong but that it didn’t matter because of the passion in the delivery. He could make her laugh better than I.
Len Iaquinta: Jim also believed in family. His last wish was to live to take a cross-country Amtrak trip from Chicago to Oregon via San Francisco, traveling along with and picking up on the way cousins and siblings. It wasn’t about him. Rather, bringing us together.
Jim is already on board waiting to welcome us with his other friends and kin that he has joined in the beyond. Let’s all jump on the train of reunion and shared joy by celebrating his life. The Celebration of Life will take place on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, May 27, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. at Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church, 7104 39th Avenue, Kenosha, WI, with Inurnment to follow in St. George Cemetery.