Jim Crissman – President Elect
Year I first attended: in the early 1990’s
Year I became a member: 1992
Leadership and team/committee involvement at UUFoM
I was the building and grounds guy for a few years. I’ve been the Sunday service speaker a few times, mostly concerning climate and poetry. I’ve also been the environmental guy for several years, leading the annual Adopt-a-Street clean-up on Eastman Road.
I grew up on a farm near Grand Rapids, just south of the village of Alaska on the Thornapple River. I’m the 2nd of 8 kids (4 boys, 4 girls); I was the oldest boy. My dad was an only child and a surgeon-farmer. I think he wanted to raise a lot of farmhands for free labor. We worked our butts off. The summer before I went off to college, we put up about 20,000 bales of hay and I handled most of them, while running the baler. We were very active in 4-H and I showed cattle at county fairs; at 16 I drove a load of our best to the state fair in Detroit.
My dad worked long hours as a doctor, and mom was completely tied up with so many kids, so I had a lot of freedom as a kid, and, as the farm grew, a lot of responsibility. Religion-wise, there were a couple of families who would haul me off to church with them occasionally, but even at a young age I could not bring myself to believe in all the miracles and magical things that happen in the Bible, including the Christian notion of God. I am apparently an atheist by nature.
I’ve been married to Jill for 40 years. We met at the Cornell vet school where she was an intern in large animal surgery and medicine and I was training in pathology. We married in 1982 and our first-born arrived exactly one year later. They are all grown now. Charley, 39, and his wife Kelty are semi-retired computer engineers living near Seattle. Halley, 37, is an Ob-Gyn and works as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Michigan medical school and at Planned Parenthood where she directs gender-affirming care along with other duties. She and her husband Drew have two daughters and a third baby on the way, due in November. Henry, 33, and his wife Virginia are ceramic artists. They started Ceramic School in Hamtramck which is doing very well. We are all close and support each other in every way we can. Our current role as grandparents is the best.
Jill and I are both retired veterinarians – Jill from veterinary practice, me from veterinary toxicologic pathology. Jill has become a political animal in retirement and puts in long hours for the successful campaigns to get rid of gerrymandering and guarantee reproductive rights for Michigan. She still works with “Voters Not Politicians” and the Midland County Democrats. As I write this, she is at a Midland County Commission meeting to monitor their actions concerning the “Promote the Vote” legislation passed in Michigan in 2022. I can’t imagine life without her.
In my retirement, woodworking has become a full-time job—sort of an obsession. That said, my big-job list is finite, and I look forward to spending more time at my other avocation, writing. I have a novel to finish and poems to write. I also still love to ride my mountain bike on dirt trails and feel incredibly lucky to still be pedaling through the woods with my wife at age 72. I built or led the building of the singletrack trails (16 miles, started September 10, 2001) in the Midland City Forest and have been taking care of them for the last 22 years, including mentoring five Eagle Scout projects. I’m currently phasing out of that job.
I’m a very empathetic person with emotions not far below the surface. Consequently, I tear up often—more often than I like—and many times I have thoughts I’d like to share, but don’t because I doubt I can speak them without being overcome by emotion. Many of you have witnessed this, no doubt. At the other end of the emotion scale is laughter. I love to make people laugh and I often stretch for it—occasionally a little too far and may offend, always inadvertently, so I apologize in advance. You can spank me if you want.
Why I chose to be a UU and join UUFoM
We joined when our kids were young. I wanted them to have a sense of their place in the world and develop a sense of compassion and empathy for those less fortunate and those different from themselves. It worked; they have grown into terrific adults, each on their own distinct path.
The other big reason was that I lost a younger brother, Charley, to aplastic anemia at age 24 in 1980. We didn’t belong to a church and there was no funeral, only a sort of wake at the house. We were all so devastated that no-one could speak, no-one to stand up and talk about what a great young person my brother was. I saw the value, not just of funerals, but of many of the rituals that serve to mark life’s passages. At the same time, I am totally allergic to dogma and just don’t think in magical ways. I am a scientist by training and now by habit. Consequently, I am an atheist, so to gain the benefits of belonging to a congregation of people dedicated to living ethically and morally on this earth, the UUs were and are the only choice.
Thoughts about the Future
I see us growing in the future, as more people find the value of a religious community that appreciates science, understands that there are objective facts, and does not insist on magical dogma. That said, we are a diverse community and will stay that way, I’m sure. Our diversity is our greatest strength and includes diversity of belief. I appreciate learning about other belief systems; empathy requires understanding. I’m excited by the prospect of generating much of the energy we use at the Fellowship from the sun. Currently I’m lining up estimates from contractors that can make this happen soon. I see our influence as a force for ethical living growing in our community because of our beliefs and more importantly, our actions.