Story posted May 05, 2010
Author: Robert Ives '71, John Cullen, Mort Soule '68, Mike Woodruff '87, Bill Clark '76, Don Chiafaro, Frank Burroughs
Photography: From the BOC archives and courtesy of Martha Lentz
Jim Lentz, who died on July 22, 2009, at age 82, was an integral member of the Bowdoin community for 41 years—half his life—as Head Football Coach, then Coordinator of Physical Education and Director of the Outing Club, and Outing Club Director Emeritus. On August 9, 2009, the College held a memorial service for Jim on Whittier Field, at which several friends offered the following personal tributes to Jim.
From the Reverend Robert Ives '71
I would like to welcome each and every one of you today, and on behalf of Martha, and Sarah, and John and the entire Lentz family I would like to thank you all for coming to this Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for Jim.
My name is Robert Ives and I was in the class of 1969 at Bowdoin . I find it a bit ironic that a minister is presiding at Jim’s service. You see I don’t think Jim darkened the doors of many churches or religious buildings. And yet for me, Jim was a remarkably religious man because he was so full of life, humor, and enthusiasm. He had a deep reverence for work, and reverence for living, all the basic ingredients of the religious life. Jim may never have darkened the door of many churches, but he certainly uplifted and enlightened the lives of those with whom he coached and worked, and certainly lived.
I first met Jim when he came to Bowdoin in 1968. He lived down on the Mere point road, and had just taken the helm as Bowdoin’s football coach. One couldn’t help but be drawn to Jim. Short of stature, but so big in life, and so firm in all that he believed. From the ever present snuffle of his boxed up nose, to raspy voice with such caring and thoughtful words, the impish grin, the roguish twinkle in his eye, Jim was one of those remarkable people you just don’t forget.
Jim was my Lacrosse coach in 1969. He was of course a great coach but he was so much more than a coach. He was an extraordinary teacher, a wonderful friend, a father figure, and so full of life and lessons for living. A friend of mine once shared how he had asked Jim on a cloudy, misty day if he were going to take any foul weather gear on their fishing trip. Jim’s reply: “Harry there is no such thing as foul weather.” Life was good for Jim, and Jim was good for life, and certainly for the people within and around his life.
And so we’ve come together this day to express in many different ways with many different voices our thanks and our appreciation for this kind, and lovely, and loving man who has blessed all our lives in so many ways.
From John Cullen
For the past two and a half weeks, I have been thinking a million thoughts, going back over the memories, shaking my head, smiling and shedding a few tears. Jim was one of my best friends and the big brother that I never had, all rolled into one. I am hoping that a very brief Jim Lentz/John Cullen timeline might be appropriate for today.
I first met Jim when I came to work at Bowdoin College in November of 1978. I was newly arrived in Brunswick, teaching junior high school math and helping Sid Watson as his assistant hockey coach. Jim, of course, was the football coach. In the spring of '79, my wife and I moved out onto the Cathance Road, in Topsham, just two miles from Jim and Martha’s home. The stars were starting to align. My next memory of Jim was in the summer of 1980 in the Forks, Maine. You knew that the Forks was coming out very soon in almost any conversation about Jim. I was walking down a woods road, trying to find a place to fish and Jim was driving his old Dodge Power Wagon, green and rust colored, as I remember, up that same road, done fishing for the morning. He took one look at me and figured that I needed help -- a lot of help. And thus began a 31-year friendship.
As we began to know each other better, Jim started to take me fishing with him. He’d show me the “secret” places...and we’d talk. Very slowly, he gave out fishing tips -- new places to fish, different flies to try, water levels that were good and bad, times of year to try different places -- and we’d talk. Jim shared his passions for fishing, coaching and teaching (and he always put those two words together), for the Red Sox, for working out, for family. I listened hard, real hard, in case a new piece of information came out about fishing. To get the fishing tips, I had to put up with the rest of his stories and opinions. We would talk at camp. We would talk in our yards, in the cab of a pickup truck, in the weight room in Sargent Gym during our noon workouts.
As I thought about Jim this past week, I realized that it was all the “rest of the stories” that was the really important stuff and he just kept me interested with fishing tips. Jim taught me to live with passion and probably more importantly, with balance. He taught me to love the outdoors. He taught me to love the people around me. Jim taught me to take the time to explore and grow these passions, and to find new ones as life changes.
And I thought that Jim was teaching me to fish.
From Mort Soule '68
If you played football for Jim Lentz at Bowdoin College, then you know my brother Phil Soule, who was the line coach during Coach Lentz’s entire tenure as Head Football Coach at Bowdoin. So what would Phil Soule say about Jim Lentz? Pretend for the next three-plus minutes that I am Phil Soule. (What a compliment for me, but what an insult for Phil.)
Jim, when you got the job at Bowdoin, I had been invited to join old friends Dick McPherson and Bob Pickett at the University of Massachusetts as their line coach. Also, the name “Harvard” was intimidating. I expected a sophisticated, pipe-smoking aristocrat in a three-piece suit. Then I met you and you said, “Phil, we’re going to have fun next fall.” Your words made up my mind.
Instead of a pipe, you chewed cigars; why bother to light them? Later, I taught you the fine art of chewing tobacco. I’m sure you never owned a three-pece suit. Well dressed to you meant (according to Stump Merrill) that there were no holes in your New Balance sneakers. We both employed the same world-renowned clothier from Brooks Brothers who carefully selected our white T-shirts, heavy wool forest-green hunting pants, and gray sweatshirts.
I soon found out that you were from the Mike Linkovich school of home finance. This meant that after Sunday night coaches’ meetings, I paid for the beer. Our vehicles were folklore. My truck and your jeep, both covered with mud from the Forks, were in sharp contrast to the professors' BMWs.
You gave me credit for the success of the 1970 team, and I appreciate that. You gave me the freedom to lead my guys into the woods to go one-on-one with the iso-tree (how many of you linemen remember the iso-tree?), to disrupt the soccer practice, to develop pride in the pigpen for the linemen only, to teach “the pappeller for the patella” technique, and to create the boiled owl award. You gave me the freedom to coach as I needed to coach. Thank you.
We had the same religion—a swift river, a duck in the sight of shotguns, a striped bass at the end of our line. We praised the earths’ natural gifts.
This does not mean that we never referred to the Lord. When my brother Mort asked me if I were going to apply for Head Coach of Football at Bates, I quickly answered, “Jesus Christ, I hate Bates.”
Thank you for being my bowman in our two-man canoe, and your presence in the State of Maine War canoe meant a strong paddle from your station.
My brother’s friends from Harvard: Don Chiofaro, Carl Goodwin, and Carter Lord talked about the post-practice Lentz tutorial when the hitting was more crisp than during the regular practice.
Your work ethic during the season was exemplary; the coaches’ meetings were long but productive. After the season, we celebrated. Joanne Soule, the mother of my four handsome and successful children, remembers you crawling out of our kitchen on all fours at a post-season spaghetti feed for the coaches and seniors. We drove you home.
(Mort as himself again): My wife Maureen often spoke about the respect you showed all football players—all of them, from the record breakers to those who barely played. She called you “a great teacher.” You have a great marriage; your love for Martha is boundless, although I often heard you say, “She thinks I live at the Forks.”
Coach Jim Lentz, now let’s go find Woody Hayes and show him something our good friend Stump Merrill has said many times: “Jim Lentz knows a lot of football.”
From Mike Woodruff '87
I could quite literally stand here for the next two hours and talk about Jim Lentz, and tell stories about Jim, but I know that Jim would probably not appreciate that, and Martha did not account for that in her planning for this service. I wrote down these notes to keep my natural tendency to wander in check, and to help me get through a few thoughts that I wanted to share.
For the past 25 years, I have had the honor of Jim’s friendship. His profound impact on my life is difficult to articulate. Seeing the group of people who are here today to honor Jim’s life, I realize that, while each of us remembers our own interactions with Jim, we share the common experience of having been touched profoundly by this remarkable man.
I have been blessed in my life in many ways; I came to Bowdoin having no idea that I would discover my passion to be paddling down whitewater rivers (instead of practicing medicine), I went to the Southeastern United States to teach whitewater paddling (with Jim’s encouragement and recommendation) and met my incredible wife in North Carolina while racing canoes, and I have arguably the best job in the State of Maine, if not the world. All of these blessings are a direct result of my friendship with Jim. Luckily for me, Jim has always been way ahead of me in the wisdom department.
I had the great good fortune to arrive at Bowdoin in the fall of 1983, in time to play (actually not play, but be a member) on Jim’s last Bowdoin football team. As the fifth-string quarterback, this meant that I got to spend a lot of time playing catch with the receivers and getting yelled at by Phil Soule, Mort Lapointe, and Stump Merrill. I did not know if Jim even noticed me, and I was too intimidated by him to do anything more than try to stay out of his way on the sidelines. That last football season, our team did not cover Jim’s coaching legacy in glory in terms of wins and losses, but over time, I came to realize that, even in the face of a dismal season, Jim had taught me significant lessons in leadership -- these include composure in the face of adversity, concern for others, and dedication -- which would contribute to the foundation of the Leadership Training program that has been developed in the Bowdoin Outing Club for the past twenty-five years.
In the spring, I played JV lacrosse for Jim, and began to truly appreciate his patience and ability as a teacher. We were a motley crew of football players, varsity lacrosse rejects, and an eclectic group of random individuals who seemed to have just crawled out from whatever cave they had been hibernating in for the winter. Jim patiently taught us all to throw, catch, and chase relentlessly after ground balls, then turned us loose on a much smaller, but more talented prep school team for our first game. Unfortunately, he had not had time to explain many of the rules of the game to us, and was forced to call several timeouts in the first ten minutes to explain the many flagrant infractions that we were committing. Remarkably, he did not seem upset with us; did not roll his eyes, or raise his voice. He simply taught us the proper way to approach the game. In reality, he was teaching us the proper way to approach life. I played four years of JV lacrosse with Jim, and twenty-five years later I am still trying to assimilate all the lessons he gave to me.
The watershed event in my life that was engineered by Jim, with some assistance from Frank Burroughs, was a seemingly innocuous little canoeing trip before the start of classes in the fall of 1984. This was, in fact, the first Leadership Training expedition of the Bowdoin Outing Club, but those of us participating did not know this at the time. Jim and Frank took a group of us up to their camp on the banks of the Dead River, and spent several days introducing us to whitewater canoeing. I was hooked for life after day two. I cannot articulate what it feels like for me to float down a whitewater river, but I do know that Jim Lentz is entirely responsible for giving me the opportunity to discover and develop my passion, and for this alone I am eternally grateful. Jim’s patience and teaching ability were displayed consistently, not just on that trip, but for the next twenty-plus years, as he led the Outing Club as its first Director for nine years, and then continuing to teach canoeing, canoe poling, fly-tying and fly-fishing, map and compass navigation, and Nordic skiing as the Outing Club Director Emeritus.
I continue to learn from the days that I spent with Jim on rivers in all conditions; perseverance under demanding and sometimes miserable conditions, an approach to teaching that includes patience with beginners and a willingness to give students the skills they need to succeed and then turn them loose to reach their own levels of achievement, supporting them through the peaks and valleys of those experiences, while expecting their best. In the Outing Club’s Leadership Training program we have been using Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance episode as an example of exemplary leadership in the outdoors. Remarkably, we have had our own example of exemplary leadership in Jim. He has been an inspiration for the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of students that have benefited from Jim’s approach to education, and his vision created the legacy that is the Bowdoin Outing Club today; an organization that almost one quarter of all Bowdoin students are actively involved in each year.
I think that some of Jim’s other friends will probably speak to his sense of humor, but I wanted to share a story that Tim Fitzgerald, a lacrosse player and Outing Club leader, who is now on the faculty at Montana State University, sent to me earlier this week. Tim wrote: "I was sitting in the old BOC office with Jim one day, talking about fishing or the cabin or baseball or something. I think maybe I was a senior. You may have been there -- I honestly don't remember. A freshman from Minnesota came in. He had heard about Jim Lentz, the great fishing expert. This kid was very excited to do some fishing in Maine. Jim politely asked a couple of questions, and it became immediately clear to both of us that the kid wanted tips on ice fishing, which he had grown up with in Minnesota. Jim's eyes twinkled just a bit, but he absolutely deadpanned the delivery -- 'I'm afraid I can't give you much advice; I find that I can't very consistently cast a fly into the hole in the ice.' Needless to say, the poor kid didn't understand what he was talking about. I don't remember what happened next -- I fell off the radiator laughing, and haven't stopped yet."
Not everyone got Jim’s sense of humor…
Jim has been a major inspiration for my work and life for the past 25 years. Jim had an incredible run, and did not stop until it was over. I have great admiration for the way Jim approached life, and know that it was inevitable that he would have to go one day. I just thought he had a few seasons left in the tank. But he was finally slowing down, although he kept on through a series of injuries that would have sidelined most folks long before the far side of 80 years.
I have been sad since Jim left us, mainly, I realize, for my own selfish reasons. I always enjoy having him stop by the Outing Club to discuss life; he never stopped teaching me, and I still have a long way to go to realize most of his teachings. In typical Jim fashion, he thought that he was imposing on my time, although I always told him “Please stop by anytime, Jim.”
My wife, Lucretia and I were talking about Jim last night, and she said that when you realized that Jim was your friend and respected you as such, it really meant something, as if you had accomplished something worthwhile. She said that Jim is a completely genuine person. She is right. She also wanted me to say that she loved Jim very much.
I want Martha, John and Sarah, and the rest of their family to know that I loved Jim very much, and I am sorry for their loss. I woke up in the middle of the night a week before Jim collapsed in the fitness center, and realized that I needed to thank Jim for all that he had meant to me and all he had contributed to my life. I know that he knew I was grateful to him for those things, but I wanted to be sure he understood just how important he is to me. I did not get a chance to tell him that until he was lying in the Intensive Care Unit at MidCoast Hospital. I hope he understood how I felt about him. He was a great man and I hold him in great reverence.
From Bill Clark '76
I played and coached football for Jim Lentz in the mid 1970s. It was an extraordinary privilege. He was a hero, a role model, a father figure, and a friend. Martha, John and Sara, I am honored to speak on behalf of his Bowdoin football players.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who did not play or coach for Jim, wrote a poem looking back upon his Bowdoin days entitled “Morituri Salutamus,” We Who Are About To Die Salute You (thank you Nate Dane), in which he spoke of “ye familiar scenes-ye groves of pine, that once were mine and are no longer mine.” What are the familiar scenes of our youthful Bowdoin memories?
How well I recall the start of double sessions on a rainy late August day in 1972 as a nervous 17-year-old freshman being greeted by Mort LaPointe and a group of seniors with shaved heads or Mohawks (Mort opted for the former look). I gulped, said goodbye to my dad, who was shedding some very rare tears, and proceeded to begin becoming a Polar Bear.
There were other freshmen around (Barks, Warthog, Big Dick, PJ, Totts, Chet and others, who Phil Soule would soon name). We nervously whispered about the head coach. We knew that he had come from Harvard, was said to be a defensive wizard and a skilled student of the game. The word was that he combined the brilliance of Tom Landry and the will of Vince Lombardi (we did not yet know that he also had the fashion sense of Bill Belichick). What would this football genius be like?
We headed down to Pickard Field for practice. On our way we were passed by a man driving some sort of a dented, grimy Land Rover (this was before they became chic and known as SUVs). There was a wooden canoe strapped wobbly on the top and an enormous black dog (Angus) slobbering out the window, with fishing gear, jumbles of ropes and other sorts of stuff piled high. The driver was kind of short and rumpled and he had a vacant look in his eyes. He totally ignored us. Clearly his mind was elsewhere (as I got to know him as a coach I realized that he was completely fixated on the details of the upcoming practice). We did observe a torn sweat shirt sprinkled with brown stains and a battered black cap with a Bowdoin “B” on it. We probably figured that he was just another backwoods Maine character.
Well, we got to practice and there was that same guy who had been driving the Land Rover, a fireplug of energy and intensity, chewing a big wad of tobacco. He gathered us around him, grinned slightly, gave a few words of welcome and then, after a good spit of tobacco juice on the ground and perhaps on his sweatshirt, uttered his immortal phrase, which has stayed with me all of my life, “Men, let’s get a little bit better today.”
Football at Bowdoin under Jim Lentz was wonderful. We worked hard, enjoyed great triumphs, and suffered devastating disappointments. We cared deeply. Football really mattered to all of us, no one more than our coach. He taught us the intricacies of playing our positions; he was a thinking man’s coach and yes, he was a football genius. We respected Jim and believed in him.
Jim had a spare, economic approach to language, not a man of many words. But every word had meaning. We were so eager to please him. You always knew that he was watching you and you yearned to do things right, as he had instructed and drilled you. What a thrill it was to get a compliment from our quiet coach. I vividly remember a film session after we had destroyed WPI 38-0, the offense racking up yardage, the defense hounding their quarterback and stuffing their running game. We analyzed the film with him and like little kids hungrily awaited his plaudits. At the end of the session he gave us his half smile and said simply “better.” High praise indeed! We were on cloud nine.
I was blessed to coach under Jim after graduating. He worked so hard and he was so smart. The man loved his job and he also always maintained a deep love of the outdoors, which you have heard about. I remember his pride as he told me one morning about the new outhouse he had built at his camp in the Forks. “Billy, it’s great, a two-seater!” Well, we did not share every enthusiasm.
I last saw Jim here at Whittier Field last fall. (Talk about a “familiar scene and groves of pine”). He was aglow, surrounded by his players from that great 1970 team and another enormous Newfoundland dog, his fourth at Bowdoin including Angus. What a perfect final portrait.
Let us consider our good fortune as Bowdoin football players of a certain vintage. We were coached by men like Phil Soule, Sid Watson and of course Mort LaPointe. We were cared for by men like Mike Linkovich and Dan Hanley. What a pantheon of legends who were there with Jim Lentz. Think of those crisp days and glorious sunsets on Pickard Field. Remember the delight of chasing after a football, getting to line up and lunge out at a blocking sled, ripping a forearm, making a tackle. Try to forget the broken hot water heaters and cold showers after a rainy November practice. Cherish the laughter and the sheer joy of it all. Most of all, think of Jim Lentz and let us honor the memory of that great man who taught us so much, who inspired us, and who pushed us to “get a little bit better.” We will miss you coach.
From Don Chiofaro
It is a great privilege and honor with some humility that I come here today to speak of my good friend Jim Lentz, representing several thousand men of Harvard whose lives were touched in such a meaningful way at such an important time. I would like to use their words.
“Jim was the best coach I ever coached with. The finest knowledge of the game, the greatest respect for the tradition, a coach’s coach, a true representative of the amateur sport and the great lessons learned in victory but more importantly in defeat, a fine man and a fine friend.” --Pat Stark. He coached with Jimmy for a decade at Harvard, and his friendship extended for many years thereafter. Martha, Pat send his condolences and best to you and the family.
Bill Timpson, Harvard Class of ’68: “In those times when the pressures of big time college sports undercut institutional integrity, Jim was always clear about his values, his respect for his players’ and his expectation of the best from everyone.”
Warren Huff, Professor of Geology department of Geology University of Cincinnati: “I was mostly a second stringer and a JV, but Jimmy clearly considered me an equivalent team member. He had a very positive and infectious attitude about believing you could do whatever you set out to do. He was able to extract the very best from all of his players.”
Bobby Leo, class of ’67: “He was the toughest coach, yet the gentlest man, I ever knew.”
Bob Norton: “Two specific memories; one reflected Jimmy’s quiet generosity. I had no money, no job needed an apartment and Jimmy lent me his for the summer, rent free so I could finish organic chemistry and go on to be a doctor. My second memory was the chewing tobacco and spitting on our shoes! One day the defensive backs decided we would get revenge. We got some tobacco before practice, and started chewing. In no time at all we were swallowing some of the juice, and then gagging and puking. Never did get to show him our chaws or spit on his shoes – we were too sick."
“You could always trust in whatever Jimmy said, he was an honest stand up guy, a really good man. He would never let you down and he never wanted you to let yourself down.” --Marty Zukerman, class of ’65.
“A unique combination of utter toughness and good humor. This was an important man, so full of life, so refreshing to be around, with so many interesting sides.” --John Hoffman '65
Player and Coach Tom Stephenson from the 1961 championship team: "Jim Lentz was a classic for all the ages. I liked him very much, he certainly didn’t leave anything in the locker room, did he?"
Mike Bassett, 1964 quarterback: “He was the heart and soul of the Yovicsin era teams with toughness and technical finesse he made everyone want to play for him.”
Ar Lindell: “He taught not only football skills, but the life skills of determination and enthusiasm by his own example. One of my fondest memories is piling into Coach Lentz’s old Landrover, as many as could fit in, for the ride up to the old Varsity Club, where you were sure to have to compete with fishing and hunting gear for a seat and a good possibility for getting a fly hooked in your rear end.”
Billy Grana 1964: “Jimmy was one of the most influential people in my life and career. He demonstrated the importance of a tough work ethic but also a warm and encouraging personality. My wife Susan and I felt great love for him and the contribution he made to our lifestyle and the rest of our lives."
“The importance of a four arm shiver, the necessity for encouragement and the need for one on one contact became part of my being. He let me re-earn my starting position after a season ending injury. His character and approach to people in crisis and his commitment to people who played for him shaped me as much as anyone I have worked with in my lifetime.” --Jim Keating professor of Medicine Washington University in St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Victor Connell: “On the lighter side: as a defensive middle guard one of my most vivid memories was Coach Lentz’s chewing tobacco habit. I learned to get used to the sensation of warm saliva mixed with tobacco juice landing on my exposed lower legs. As I recall, Emma was also known to chew, so I may have been getting it from both directions. After practice was over, I would be scrubbing off the tobacco juice stains on my lower legs, which took some effort to remove. In fact, I think I still have some stains on my legs today!"
Jim Youngblood Hughes" “I remember him with fondness and respect, mine for him and his for me. That smile on his face a twinkle in his eye and always a little tobacco juice around his mouth. Always a kind word of encouragement."
From Justin Hughes, captain of the 1966 Ivy League Champions. Justin said three words come to mind when I think of Jimmy Lentz: “honesty, integrity and competence.”
Steve Crosby: “I always knew that Jimmy respected the fact that I came out to practice everyday for four years, worked as hard as I could, and never played a minute in a varsity game. It was obvious that he respected my commitment and that meant a lot to him and the game he loved. That meant a lot to me."
John Rosenberg: “Over 40-plus years, I have coached at some very high levels, with and against some of the top coaches in the profession. That list includes 10 years with Joe Paterno and Penn State (with 10 Bowl games and 1 National Championship). The Linebacker coach at Penn State, often referred to as "Linebacker U," was Jerry Sandusky, whom I worked with very closely as defensive backfield coach. Jerry was acknowledged as one of the top linebacker coaches in the country. I later worked with Vince Tobin, a longtime NFL linebacker coach and defensive coordinator and later NFL head coach in Arizona. I can honestly say -- and not just for the purposes of this celebration -- as I have said this before conversationally to others, that Jimmy Lenz is a great football coach, by any standards at any level. From time to time I am asked “who was the best coach you have ever worked with?" from people or press looking for a Joe Paterno or Jim Mora Sr. response. When I answer that it was Jimmy Lenz, I get that “who’s he?" look. They do not know Jimmy -- but we all do. In so many ways -- as players and as people -- our lives are so much better for his having been with us."
And lastly, we could all spend days telling stories about jimmy and many of them would be similar. He was so consistent, so pure, so unique and he was the same person to everyone he met, but I am sure we all saw him a little differently.
My wife asked me if I thought Jimmy knew what kind of impact he had on the people that got to know him as coach and friend. I said that I didn’t know and then thought about it, and said probably not – he was so humble and his focus was so outside of himself that I am sure he would be quite surprised and more than a little amused at the importance he played in so many lives.
I have a little story that I think is reflective of his personality that we all saw. To say he was a man of few words is an understatement. It’s not that he didn’t have much to say, quite the contrary. He just didn’t use many words to make his point. In fact he was somewhat like a third base coach, he could communicate with gestures, nods, grunts and a lift of an eyebrow, change in his expression. In the three years that I played for Jim, we may have used a paragraph or two between us. He used such words as “better, needs work, awful." He once looked at me and said, “You could be a defensive tackle if you don’t lose some weight." And on an exceptionally good day he would smile and say ‘fine’. Those words were plenty good enough for me, and I knew what they meant.
In the later years I got to know him better, spent more time with him. We went to the Forks, played golf went to see the Red Sox. Jimmy enjoyed every little thing, he loved his fly rod, he loved his wind pants, loved his cross country skis, his dog Dory, and of course he was in love with Martha, and adored his children John and Sara, and his buddies from the Forks and the guys he coached, and Scotch. In our last trip to the Forks I made a remarkable discovery, a new side of Jim Lentz that I had never seen before. I would usually bring him a bottle of Scotch, and I could never buy one more expensive than his regular brand. He had no time for things that were over priced, or priced out of his range. He could afford everything he needed, but had most of it already. After a day of fishing and dinner and several Scotches Jimmy sat back and started to tell a story. He was like Andy Devine. It was an adventure story, and as I listened I realized that we were all in it. All those people that Jimmy loved were in his story, as we had entered and become the color of his life.
The story was interesting, insightful, it was an adventure, a love story – a real life epic, and I wondered where it came from. Later he told me as a restless sleeper, when he got up, or had difficulty sleeping, he would conjure up a chapter, modify a character, embellish a situation, put a new twist and a new turn with all of his old friends. We were all in his story and he always had us with him, as we will always have him with us. I love Jimmy Lentz. Thank you Jim. We will never forget you.
From Frank Burroughs
Jim was the founding father, CEO, and President for Life of Piscator, a nonprofit corporation located in Somerset County. Piscator is named after the main character in Izak Walton’s Complete Angler, which was written three and a half centuries ago. Among other things, many of them outdated, Walton said that fisherman are born, not made. It isn’t enough to learn how, when, and where you do it. You have to have a pre-existing genetic condition, which provides the only possible explanation for why you do it. For persons thus afflicted, fishing is no more a hobby or a sport than marriage is an infatuation or a flirtation. It’s a life.
On a wall of Corporate Headquarters, up at the Forks, there is a grainy old black and white photograph of half a dozen nuns, spaced out along the grassy border of a pond, fishing. They’re absorbed by what they are doing, isolated from each other by their concentration, like so many herons along the edge of a tidal creek. The caption of the photograph reads: From the earliest times, the art of angling and the religious vocation have gone together.
We—the junior partners of Piscator—put the photograph there because we thought it was funny, but also because we had evidence that it was true.
Even including the present company here today, Jim was by much the best fisherman I’ve known. That was a matter of knowing how, when, and where to do it, but it was much more than that. Fishing expressed him more fully, and informed his life and character more deeply, than anyone I’ve ever met. It gave meaning to the cycle of the seasons, and he improvised rituals and sacraments around it.
The spiritual year began as the secular year ended, on or about December 21, when for many years Jim and Martha hosted a party. It had nothing to do with Christmas; it was to honor the solstice. At some point in the evening a rousing version of the old baptismal hymn, "Shall We Gather At the River?" would be played. The title was a rhetorical question, and there was no need to specify which river. Yes, we would gather; yes, it would be the Kennebec, the stretch that runs from Carry Brook down to Caratunk.
And at some point in the evening, Jim might remark that he had tied the first fly of the new season that day. From the end of the old season, through the months of dwindling daylight, he tied no flies. He did penance and coached football. But with the return of the sun, hope and faith were renewed, and he got busy.
A bit later—on a bright Saturday morning in January, say—you might go into his house and find him seated at the bay window in the den, bent over his vise, working on one of the classic patterns or one of his own invention, perhaps incorporating hair shed by one of a succession of large, affable dogs, who seem to have been chosen for the texture and quantity of their underfur. And you might catch a whiff of something familiar, but that you could not quite identify, and ask him Jim, what’s that smell? Insect repellant. He liked to apply a little of it—the smell would take him right up to Stand Up Rips or the Crusher, up to his waist in the river, at the height of the fishing season, which is also the height of the black fly season. Not perfume, in other words, but incense—an aroma meant to evoke the soul’s homeland.
He tapped the maples along the drive in March, not simply for the syrup, but also because the ascending sap in the trees was the first manifestation of flowing water in Maine. He worked his way through the whole array of necessary flies, more or less in the order in which they would be needed—streamers and muddlers first, then the stonefly nymphs, then, in anticipation of prime time, the mayflies—patterns he tied with exceptional elegance.
Because voluntary suffering is a necessary component of most religions, he and John Cullen, Sam Butcher, and/ or one or two other flagellants would sometimes go up to the Forks for the official opening of the trout season, on the first of April. They would walk over small glaciers of ice that had been stranded as the water receded, rappel down to the river, and make a few casts, until they felt that the river gods had been propitiated or the guides of their rods had become clogged by ice, whichever came first.
Finally, May, and much watching of the water levels, and then, always at least a week too early, the first serious fishing of the year, at a time when the weather up there is likely to be cold and drizzly, the ridgelines shrouded in mist or low cloud, the leaves not yet unfurled, the roads soupy with mud. It think it was a favorite time of year for him, because at that time the country seemed most like what it had been when he first began going up there, sometime in the fifties—raw, empty, isolated, and with a welcoming loneliness, which he relished.
And then we were into high season, with its movable feasts—the March Brown hatch, the redquill hatch, the Hendrickson hatch, the blue winged olives, green drakes, and, as a mounting continuo behind them, all the caddis flies, in all the phases of their complicated lives. And so on through the glory days of June and the prime dry fly fishing of July, and the dog days of August, in which faith—the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen—was tested. Jim always aced the test, with a preposterously big salmon from a never-quite-fully-disclosed location up above Five Islands, or a fine morning at Bent Tree, while the rest of us were flailing the water without hope and without despair.
Like the nuns, and like all true fisher persons, we did not need each other’s company or take much notice of it when actually fishing. One would go to this pool, and one to that, and we would meet back at headquarters for a working lunch, followed by a mandatory nap. But once or twice a year, he and I would arrange to fish the same stretch of water together, and it was humbling, but also a great pleasure, to watch Jim’s casting—it seemed to involve motions of the wrist and hands as unconscious and minimal as those of someone knitting a scarf, and had the quick consistency and precision of a sewing machine. And he had an imperturbable at-homeness in the river, standing on slick rocks in a heavy current as matter of factly as a man sitting in his office. He became part of my imagination and my wintertime rememberings of the upper Kennebec, in about the same way that moose or otters were—something that was part of the landscape, defining and looming over it even when not visibly present in it.
Seasonal cycles are defined by time, but they also confer an illusion of timelessness. If you keep their rituals and stick to their logic, they will protect and preserve you. Jim and I never talked about this, but I am pretty sure he felt it more and more strongly as he got older. He had to work hard in the offseason, to sustain or regain his ability to fish another season. He always did. A strong memory for me is from two years ago, at about this time of year. We had gotten up too late to fish in the evening, and the weather was bad—wet and blowing. Next morning, I got up very early—something he no longer could do—and went out, to drive down and have a look at the river. The wind had subsided, and there were a few breaks beginning to show in the clouds. I watched for awhile, to give him a little more time in bed.
When I got back to camp, he was up and hobbling around. He didn’t look well rested to me. How’s it look? He said. I said it looked like it might not be a bad a day for fishing. He glanced at me as though I’d said something absurdly obvious and said, with a glint of humor and also of an unswerving, lifelong conviction. “Frank, there’s no such thing.”
Closing Words from Robert Ives '71
On a sailboat you have what we call lee helm or weather helm. A boat with weather helm is one that naturally turns up into the wind making it a safe and enjoyable boat. A boat with lee helm naturally turns away from the wind and is dangerous and unsettling.
Jim had weather helm. He naturally turned into the winds of life with his humor, honesty, friendliness, and general love of life. Whether he was fly fishing, or canoeing, or shopping at the supermarket, or simply smoking on that cigar at the Forks, he not only enjoyed the life he lived, he made the living of life so much more enjoyable for the people about him.
The 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote an epitaph for his beloved friend:
An honest man here lies at rest,
A friend of all; a friend of the truth;
A friend of the ages; a guide for youth.
Thanks so much Jim, for being such a wonderful friend and guide in so many ways, to so many of us.
Blessings on you always,
"When you realized that Jim was your friend and respected you as such, it really meant something, as if you had accomplished something worthwhile."