James Eugene Wicks, age 94, of Vinton, and formerly of Cedar Rapids and Traer, died Monday, November 6, 2023, at the Vinton Lutheran Home.
Private family graveside services will be held at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Adel, Iowa.
Jim was born on June 28, 1929, in Springfield, Illinois, the son of Julius and Florence Mae (Powell) Wicks. Jim never met his father Julius, a travelling industrial electrician who was never home. Florence was a cook at Kresge’s Five and Dime in downtown Springfield, where her cooking, especially her chili, was a favorite of legislators at the state capitol, who would race for one of the seats at her counter when the legislature adjourned for lunch.
During the poverty of the Great Depression, Jim lived from the age of four or five with his sister Helen and her husband Tom Emmett, first in Plymouth, Illinois and then, from the time he was seven, in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Jim counted Tom, who pastored a storefront church in downtown Aberdeen, as the greatest influence on his early life, crediting him with saving him from the orphanage or worse. As a young child, Jim performed as a vocal soloist under the name “Little Jimmie” at services and revivals led by Tom. When Helen died of a brain hemorrhage in 1942, Jim returned to Springfield to live with Florence, visiting Tom in Aberdeen occasionally until Tom died piloting his own plane in 1946.
After graduating from Springfield High School in 1948, Jim attended North Central Bible Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a year before enrolling in the Brown Institute of the Air to train to be a radio announcer. Jim was an announcer on KBZY (now KOZY) in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and then on KWNO in Winona, Minnesota, before being drafted into the Army in 1951. He served in the Signal Corps, studying high-speed telegraph repair and teaching a course in public speaking for officer candidates.
Jim returned to Minneapolis upon his discharge from the Army in 1953 and became an announcer at KTIS in Minneapolis. At KTIS, he hosted an afternoon music show and ran the control board for a program called “Stylings in Ivory,” which featured 21-year-old Shirley Edgerton on the piano. Spaghetti dinners for KTIS staff at Shirley’s apartment grew into romance, and Jim and Shirley were married on June 2, 1956. They were married for over 62 years until Shirley’s death on September 6, 2018.
Jim was an announcer on KHMO in Hannibal, Missouri, from 1957 to 1959, when the Program Director of Cedar Rapids’ WMT, Dean Landfear, and longtime WMT announcer Howdy Roberts, heard Jim on the air while driving through Hannibal and invited him to join WMT. An essential part of thousands of listeners’ evenings, Jim was on WMT from 1959 to 1974. His best-known shows were “Wicks Wax Works,” a musical show, “Sing Along With Jim,” on which he played and sang along with old favorites, the variety and news show “Project 600,” and the nightly call-in show, “Air Your Opinion.”
Jim interviewed a number of national figures and entertainers on his shows on WMT, including senator and presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, Ted Cassidy (Lurch on the Addams Family), and musicians John Denver and Al Hirt, among many others. His clear and resonant bass was instantly recognizable across Iowa and into other states. Jim was loved by listeners and known for his jovial and infectious laugh, which callers to Air Your Opinion would try to elicit by calling in to tell him jokes.
Jim took accounting courses at Kirkwood Community College while he worked at WMT, and when an opening in WMT’s accounting department was posted in 1974, he applied for and got the job, which he held until his retirement in 1992. Jim worked part-time in retirement for his son Tom, a chiropractor then in Traer and now practicing in Vinton. Jim also worked as a weekend announcer for KNWS in Waterloo.
After a health scare in the 1970s, Jim became an avid walker, covering many miles every morning and evening in Cedar Rapids and later in Traer. He loved to drive, to sing, to garden, to eat (especially Chinese and German food — and buttermilk and cheese crackers) and to spend time on the water in Minnesota with his family.
Jim is survived by his favorite niece, Peggy Van Nus, of Portage, Michigan; his three sons: James T. (Cheryl) Wicks, of Joplin, Missouri, Dr. Thomas J. (Christina) Wicks, of Urbana, and Timothy A. Wicks, of Wayzata, Minnesota; five grandchildren: Andrew, Ella, Lillie (Blake), Joshua and Jacob; and one great-grandchild on the way.
Through hard work, Jim rose above a childhood of struggle, loneliness and tragedy to create a rich life in which he was loved at home, at work and by thousands of radio listeners. He faced adversity with perseverance, cheerfulness and faith. By his example, he taught his sons and grandchildren the value of diligence and preparation and the power of laughter and good cheer. He was the funniest person they knew, and they will miss making him laugh. He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren in his final days, and he died cheerful to the end, a smile on his face.
Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made in Jim’s memory to the Vinton Lutheran Home Tree Fund, Vinton Lutheran Home, 1301 Second Avenue, Vinton, Iowa 52349.
Online condolences may be left at www.phillipsfuneralhomes.com.