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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Getting to know: Donn James

  • Donn James is a well-known member of the Phelps County community. After spending part of his career as a teacher and coach in the 1960s, he turned his attention to the field of mortuary services, where he has been ever since.
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  • Donn James is a well-known member of the Phelps County community. After spending part of his career as a teacher and coach in the 1960s, he turned his attention to the field of mortuary services, where he has been ever since.
    Now the owner of James and Gahr Mortuary for more than 30 years, with locations in St. James, Rolla and Salem, James never lost touch with what matters most: relationships.
    Among his strongest relationships are those he has with his family and close friends, but James also values the relationships he nurtures with the men, women and children in mourning.
    "I thoroughly enjoy the people I deal with," said James. "That's what keeps me in business. When you get to a certain age, you realize that's something money can't buy.
    "You're in a position to help people through a very tough time. Of course, you don't like to see people lose someone they love, but you learn to adjust to it,” he added.
    James, 74, also learned an important lesson about life when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. For reasons he finds difficult to explain - beyond that of a miracle - he has been in full remission for seven years.
    "I had some more work to do here," James said. "I believe I was here to pull my family through."
    Currently, James is working to improve the park in Vichy, where he hit his first "grand slam." He also makes time every other year to meet with his former ball players from John F. Hodge High School for the J-Club event, which he hosts with former coach and friend Jack Smoot.
    James was varsity coach from 1963 until 1967.
    "We won 100 games in four years," according to James. "We never lost a game in that conference, and we went everywhere to play."
    Here are a few more interesting things about Donn James.
    What did you want to be when you grew up?
    I wanted to be a cowboy like we all did. We're all wannabe cowboys. My favorite singer is Johnny Cash, and my favorite song is "The Gambler."
    What time do you wake up in the morning, and what is the first thing you think about?
    4 a.m. –  getting something done.
    What is your biggest hangup?
    People being late for work. Do you know how I spell luck? I spell it W-O-R-K.
    What do you like most about working in St. James?
    I have many acquaintances here. It's where I taught and coached. I feel comfortable here.
    Favorite vacation spot?
    I never did take one. That's the whole truth. I never actively took a two-week vacation in my life. Being in the funeral business, I never had the liberty to be gone for that long.
    Page 2 of 2 - Favorite movie?
    "Lonesome Dove."
    What do you do to relax?
    I go up to the horse barn.
    Favorite historical figure?
    Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant. And Bobby Knight. I have a lot of them. They were good at what they did.
    If money was no object, how would you spend your days?
    I would go to all of Cowboys’ college baseball games (where my grandson plays) no matter where they were. I would definitely take my wife on a two-week vacation.
    If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?
    Eliminate illegal drugs completely, any kind.
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