James Lake- Still Waters Run Deep
by Cate Murway
Quiet renaissance was part of the upbringing of
James Frederick Lake, BE ‘66/BCCC music major/ Mansfield ‘70/WVAU ’78 in historic Bristol on the Delaware.
Jim’s maternal grandparents Joseph and Tekla Krevyn lived on 276 Hayes Street and according to the 1929 Bristol directory, his grandfather worked at P.S.B. Corps., the Pacific Steel Boiler Corporation.
They raised 5 sons and one daughter, Katherine, Jim’s mother. All of his Uncles served during WWII. Navy veteran Frank was reluctant to share his story, but he survived the wings of the enemy’s plane dipping and turning his boat around. The Army veterans included Stan, a Purple Heart recipient, and John who served in the troops who fought on D-Day, the final American invasion. Joe was injured in a pen knife accident as a child, losing an eye, but he was still determined to serve his country. He was selected to make prosthetics and artificial limbs for the injured soldiers.
Navy veteran Ted, nicknamed “Todge”, was stationed in Australia when he enlisted.
Jim has no recollections of his paternal grandparents, Englishman, Maurice and Elizabeth [Doyle] Lake who was born in Ireland. Jim’s father, Army Air Corps veteran, Sgt. James Edward Lake lost his dad while he was in the service. His paternal Aunt Sarah [Lake] Rodgers was the mother of the late Mayor John Maurice Rodgers, BHS class of ’47.
Jim learned innate kindness from his father’s understanding and responding to the needs of others. He shared family stories of his dad rescuing stray dogs as a child and continuing to reach out and help others his whole life.
“He could walk in a room and brighten it.”
Jim Lake, Sr. was highly involved in community service.
It was Jim’s dad, Chairman of the Board of Recreation, who suggested “new life for the old school”, the former brick and stone Bristol High School on Wood Street. He recommended that it be used by youth groups and by the Bucks County Association for the retired and Senior Citizens, who were currently congregating in a small room on Radcliffe Street. Councilman William Pearson, and the secretary of the Bristol School Board, Anthony Mandio agreed.
Mrs. Miriam Brown, director of adult welfare for Bucks County, hoped to pay a nominal $1.00 yearly fee for use of the building.
Jim’s parents met at Kaiser-Fleetwings where they were both employed. His father had also worked in the Grundy Worsted Mill. Jim and his sister, Marine veteran/former RE broker/ massage therapist Monica Karen, who livess in Canada, were raised in the Bristol Borough home where Jim still resides.
As a youth, Jim participated in some neighborhood athletics but music was more his style. He tried playing the piano when his mom purchased a Lester piano for him for a surprise while he was in high school. “I had to fake my exuberance and joy. Buying this piano was a major investment.” It still sits in his home. “She was all thrilled but I never mastered it”.
As a singer/ soloist, Jim at one time, performed at Bucks County Community College. He also bartended at the King George II and sang, accompanied by the piano player on Friday and Saturday evenings. His mother had started him with voice lessons when he was in the 3rd grade. Sister Virginita was his teacher at St. Mark School. His first “gig” was when he sang for the Hibernians at request of the OAH Ladies’ Auxiliary and he was “paid 5 bucks”.
During high school, after classes, Jim worked as a cashier at the A&P on New Falls Road. He has fond memories of Bristol High School dominating every sport.
His first job after graduation was at the Stephen- Leedom Carpet Company in Warminster, manufacturing and dyeing carpets until he was injured, crushing a disc in his spine.
He secured a music degree from BCCC and changed his major at Mansfield College to psychology.
He put his Psychology degree to work, counseling as a caseworker in the sprawling inner-city Richard Allen public housing projects for three years. Surviving was the description of life used by many who lived there. There was always a sense of living apart, separated from the rest of the city, not by bars or fences, but by something far more insidious-a frame of mind.
He left to head a social service program when funding was cut, and he relocated to West Virginia with his friend, Joe Pinelli.
He remembered his dad suggesting “labor relations”. He recalls his words.
“Think about what you want. Ask for more than you want. Then you settle”.
Jim changed his goals from social work to industrial relations and began working at Union Carbide.
On the night of December 2, 1984 a pesticide plant in the central poverty ridden city of Bhopal, India leaked methyl isocynate gas and other chemicals, creating a dense toxic cloud over the region. It killed more than 8,000 people who lived in the makeshift cardboard cities located in the vicinity of the factory, in just the first few days. More than 40 tons of [MIC] gas created a dense cloud over a resident population of more than half a million people, continuing to expose them to toxic chemicals through groundwater and soil contamination.
The chemical factory responsible for this disaster belonged to Union Carbide. Jim worked in their Human Relations Department at the WV plant and the HR manager was on vacation. This left Jim to deal with the press. Because of this disaster, areas of Union Carbide were sold off.
A whole new generation continues to get sick from cancer and birth defects. There are everyday impacts of aches and pains, rashes, fevers, eruptions of boils, headaches, nausea, and loss of appetite, dizziness, and constant exhaustion.
A car accident changed everything for him. Jim endured major rehabilitation following this motor vehicle accident and he returned to Bristol in 2004.
Several years ago, a relative, Jerry Barner, suggested that he run for the North Ward councilman position. As a professional, Jim worked in organizational development and he knew how to work with groups of people. He has traveled to different plants across the coasts, assisting groups to accurately define and effectively solve problems.
“I see Bristol as a great opportunity for people to work together. The circles of influence need to work together with a mission statement.” He is interested in the revitalization and enhancing Mill Street’s image, looking into “new and better ways to improve undertakings”.
Jim grew up in a time when everyone knew everyone and watched out for each other’s children. He is an avid reader, fascinated with history and he recalls a strong sense of community when manufacturing was “very big in the Borough”, and only one parent worked.
He feels that one “inherits opportunities of the past from parents and the hopes of tomorrow from children.” There’s always an opportunity to improve on what we can be, to capitalize on a period of change.
Jim Lake expressed that he is just “an ordinary guy who thinks of extraordinary things.”
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