Crusader for higher ed, anti-racism, justice
JAMES FORSTALL: March 19, 1931 - March 3, 2017
Jim Forstall just had this twinkle in his eyes and a smile that drew one into him. Whether it was at a meeting of the Chamber’s Business Education Partnership discussing ways business and education could unite for students, or at one of the many community organizations that Jim participated in, he showed a gentleman’s demeanor.
All who knew him will also say he was never afraid to speak his mind. He raised issues and asked questions, always politely, but sometimes making others feel uncomfortable. To Jim, it was almost an obligation to speak up – about racial inequality, about needs of students, about supporting a cause.
Sister Marcelline Koch worked with Jim in the Springfield Dominicans Anti-Racism Team, begun in 2003. “His voice was a major force calling us to something better – something more just. Sometimes, when we thought we had everything worked out, Jim would raise another point. We didn’t like it at times, but we would go back to the drawing board. And that enriched the work.” Only a month before Jim’s death, she now realizes, “Jim really gave us his last challenge. After a meeting each person was to use a word or phrase to describe the meeting. Jim asked us all, ‘What will sustain this work?’ Jim was always committed to changing how things work and building trust, honest and transparent communication.”
Rich Bowen, retired instructor and head of the Business and Public Services Department at Lincoln Land Community College and Jim’s dear friend for many years, laughs while remembering Jim’s dogged determination to “try to get you to see his point.
“We would sometimes disagree, and later he’d come back, readdress it and try to persuade that he was right. Sometimes he’d win me over; sometimes I’d win him over. But we never fell out of friendship. He just was very passionate about what he believed in.”
His friends share that he was an avid baseball fan, often suggesting trips to St. Louis to see the Cardinals or to various towns to watch a college basketball game. He sometimes even “suggested” what the others should wear because Jim was known for his classy dress, whether casual or professional.
He volunteered on many projects and events with the NAACP, Urban League, Frontiers International and Lion’s Club. He served on boards such as Goodwill, Memorial Medical Center and the Springfield Citizens Club to name a few. Bob Gray, president of the Citizens Club, says, “Jim was a delight. He served on the Citizens Club board throughout the 12 years it’s been in existence and helped arrange three forums on race relations.” Gray, too, says Jim was one who challenged your thinking. “If you were in discussion with him and raised a topic, you sure had better know what you were talking about.”
Jim was proud of his military service in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, met his wife, Giovanni, while on tour duty in Italy. In 1968 he was asked to train Army National Guards in Springfield and ended up settling down here, raising two sons, Giulio and Gregory. He enjoyed a 20-year career in the military, earning the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, and several meritorious service awards. He represented President Richard Nixon at the Presidential Wreath Laying at Lincoln’s Tomb on Lincoln’s birthday in 1969.
When he was offered a job by the president of the then Sangamon State University, he retired from the military and started a career in higher education. He commuted to classes at Illinois State University and earned his doctorate in 1985. His passion in advocating for the needs in higher education and advocating for disadvantaged students in their pursuit of higher ed, was witnessed over the years in his work at several institutions: Sangamon State University, Lincoln Land Community College and at the Illinois Board of Higher Education as the grants administrator.
For all of his work, volunteerism and passion he was named the 2016 Copley First Citizen. That day, Oct. 27, Jim’s twinkle in his eye and the beam on his face said it all about a life of service to his country and to his city.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna had the pleasure of working with Jim Forstall on the Business Education Partnership of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. She couldn’t begin to interview all the people who were suggested to her because the list of Jim’s friends would fill an entire page.