Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Jim's History


jim2.jpg I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of a junior high school principal and a lab research specialist for Armstrong Cork Company. One of my great uncles graduated from West Point, was Dean of the Law Department there during his Army career and is buried there. One of my father's brothers fought in the Battle of the Bulge and a second brother also went to West Point and later became an Ace in World War II. My dad, as the third son, worked for RCA during the war. He encouraged me to consider West Point, and we drove up there for the graduation of one of Dad's former students, Jack Kamm. Jack was a distinguished graduate and dad was best man in his wedding in the chapel at West Point on the day Jack graduated. As I considered West Point, I decided I would rather fly than be in the Army. It took two tries to get an appointment. When I did not get the appointment after high school, I went to Penn State for one year. I almost did not go to Olmsted AFB near Harrisburg the second time for the physical and all the entry screening. In May I was preparing to pledge a fraternity and was excited about the coming year at Penn State. However, I got the news that I had the appointment, and it took about ten seconds to decide I was heading west.


My memories of the years at USAFA provide many great feelings. Meeting guys from so many different towns and experiences was so valuable and would help me later in more ways than I could imagine. I made some of the best friendships of my life while there, and I will highlight some of them in this history. I escaped to training tables because I played soccer. However, those were not always easier. Just ask Jim Renschen how he got along with Bob Schaller of '62. We played teams from all over the country, getting there in T-29'sand C-47's and staying in barracks at places like Alameda Naval Air station. I never saw anyone as green as Al Ross as we flew west from Peterson Field in a Gooney bird. Don Heide kept us laughing no matter where we were. Although I was not on the tennis team, I had some epic matches with Skip Wilson and Ken Anderson on those Saturdays during our sophomore year when we did not have the privileges to get off base. I was on the first detail of training the new class before we started our senior year. My friend, Skip Wilson, knew that there were some girls at Loretto Heights there in the summer because they were in a nursing program. Skip arranged a blind date, and that was how I met my wife to be, Lorna Duning. We were able to share our senior year at our respective schools with lots of trips between Denver and USAFA. During Christmas break senior year, I went to California to visit Lorna and to meet her parents. One of my soccer buddies, Al Ross, was also out there and he offered to give me a ride back to Colorado in his Volkswagen bug. Al's VW did not have a gas gage, just a reserve tank. We were passing through small Southern Colorado towns and the one or two gas stations were not open. We did not have time to wait for them to open. Al coasted down hills and we made it to an open station on fumes. We ended up signing in with 2 minutes to spare. The Air Force lost an opportunity for a great officer there, but I had no doubt he would be a big success at whatever he did. Another special driving memory is after junior year, going from USAFA to home in Pennsylvania in Ken Wentzel's brand new MGB with the top down. Lorna and I were married in July after graduation in La Canada, a small town about 10 miles north of LA. I was lucky to have Jim Renschen as my best man and Mike Galbreath, Mike Henry, John Graves, Ed Lorenen and Jim Spittler (class of '65) as my groomsmen. We had a great time enjoying Southern California as graduates not quite ready to launch into our careers (except for Spittler who had one more year to go).


After graduation, I went to pilot training at Webb AFB. As we were informed the first day by the wing commander, Big Spring was right in the heart of all the entertainment in the Southwest—300 miles from Dallas, 300 miles from El Paso, 300 miles from San Antonio. It was a tough adjustment for a guy from Pennsylvania and a gal from California. But, the excitement of pilot training was incredible. How lucky I felt for the experience. I did come to realize that I was not one of those “right stuff” kinds of pilots. A few of our class took the T-38 up as high as it would go, flamed out both engines and restarted them on the way down. I did not want to do that. I did not want the back seat of an F-4 and decided to pick the brand new C-141's. However, I was one slot short and ended up flying C-124's for a year. Later I got “picked” to transition into HH-43's and sent off to Viet Nam. While at Tan Son Nhut I roomed for a few months with my Detachment commander, then Major Richard H. Smith. I learned from him how disappointing weak performers and mediocrity could be for a commander. From then on, I would be more determined to never be close to mediocre. Although I was a somewhat reluctant helicopter pilot I found myself embracing the experience. After Viet Nam, we were sent back to Sheppard and later to Hill as an instructor. In 1972 I was fortunate to be selected for an M.B.A. program at USC and a chance for Lorna to live near where she grew up in Southern California. I loved the program and was thankful to focus on the M. B. A. kind of curriculum as opposed to the USAFA programs which had been more of surviving than thriving for me. Maybe I was finally finding my niche. I spent five years at Wright Patterson in a SPO with a very special group that had developed the AC-130 Gunship and then was working on an incredible modification to the H-53 called Pave Low III. We got the program into production, but by then it was time for me to move on. I resigned in June 1979 after 15 years. I was told I would make Lt. Colonel, but I wanted to make my own way and live where I wanted to live. And, I wanted to make more money. I had a cousin that was in the pension consulting business and he arranged some meetings to help me meet the right people in that business that were inclined to hire academy graduates. An interview in Chicago was delayed and I called my old roommate, Mike Galbreath, who was working in the Sears Tower for Merrill Lynch. That was a lucky call. Mike called a friend of his in New York that was in the same business that I was in Chicago for interviewing.


Getting hired by Merrill Lynch as a pension consultant fresh out of the Air Force was not easy. There were 15 different interviews. Once again family connections helped, as one of Merrill's biggest competitors for several years was a firm where my cousin Bob McComsey was a big producer. Having Mike Galbreath's introduction helped as well. I started with Merrill Lynch in August 1979 as a regional specialist providing consulting services for pension funds and foundations in the Southwest, working out of downtown Los Angeles. It was a great time to be in Southern California and it gave Lorna a chance to be back where she grew up. As a specialist I worked with some of the biggest producers at Merrill Lynch who helped me learn more about investing and how to sell. We built the client base from 16 to 90 over almost 7 years there and I started making some serious money. Little did I know when I started that one of my bosses at Merrill Lynch would be Mike Galbreath, who had moved from Chicago to New York and was highly thought of there. Our friendship survived those years, thankfully. I was so lucky during those years to have the frequent mentoring of my cousin, Bob, who in those years had graduated out of the pension consulting business and become a partner at Neuberger Berman, one of the most prestigious investment firms in New York. At the end of that time at Merrill Lynch I was seeing about 300 different investment accounts for about 90 different investment managers. I knew almost every manager based in Los Angeles personally. They wanted to know me because when it came time for one of my clients to replace a manager they wanted to be considered. I had learned that to be successful in the investment business you had to either be a great portfolio manager or be able to bring in new business and keep clients. I was good at bringing in new business and keeping it. Merrill Lynch's biggest producers had a wide variety of personalities. My USAFA experience helped me relate to these very successful strong willed professionals. As Merrill Lynch moved in a somewhat different direction, it was once again time for me to move on. In August 1986 I went to work for Nicholas Applegate Capital Management, a money management firm in San Diego specializing in growth stocks. The founder, Art Nicholas, was a brilliant and spirited leader. He made some great hiring decisions and developed a super investment team. After growing the small and mid-cap growth stock business, we diversified the firm into several other areas of portfolio management and grew the firm from $400 million under management to over $50 billion. There was never a dull moment during my 15 years there, and being named one of Art's partners in his first venture of sharing ownership was one of my proudest life achievements. We sold the firm in 2001, close to the top of that market cycle, and I retired one year later after helping transition to the new ownership. It had been a great time to be in the investment business.


The saddest time of my life happened in 1997 when my wife, Lorna, died of breast cancer. She was simply the best person I had ever known. I was so lucky to have 33 years with her and two wonderful children. Our son, Mark, was born about one week before I was to solo in the T-38. On the second day of his life he and I were on an Air Evac T-29 to San Antonio and he was operated on the next day. He had a connection between his esophagus and his trachea. He survived but he would not be here if it weren't for the nursing and loving of his wonderful mother. Our daughter, Maureen, was born five months before I was to come home from my tour in Viet Nam. Maureen was a healthy baby and is a great daughter. Lorna was a great mom. After trailing around with me for 15 Air Force years and living away from her beloved Southern California, she got seven years in La Canada and 11 years in a beautiful condominium in La Jolla with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. Life went on without Lorna. There was no choice. I did not believe I could find someone to love as I had before. But I did. I met Joel Patton, another Southern California gal. She grew up in La Jolla, went to San Diego State and was a second grade teacher when we met. It was the start of a second life. I fell in love again. She became my second wife. The best man at our wedding was the same one who had been best man at my first wedding, Jim Renschen. Joel felt thoroughly “checked out” as some of my old friends, like Hugh Williamson, came to visit and meet her before we got married. Joel helped me in so many ways to keep building the successes we were experiencing at Nicholas Applegate. After I retired in 2002 we built a second home in the California desert enabling us to always seek the perfect California day—Rancho Santa Fe from May to November and La Quinta from November to May. No matter how hard I try not to be mediocre in golf, I don't always succeed there. But, the challenge is always there, and golf is a great way to make a lot of friends. I am so thankful for my Academy and Air Force experiences. They are so much a part of my character. In my civilian ventures I believe one of the main reasons for my success was that people could sense I was an honest person and that they could trust me. I know my parents raised me that way, but the Academy solidified it.


My current chapter in life has several objectives. Stay healthy, enjoy life with Joel and help my son in growing his investment management business as a growth stock portfolio manager in Los Angeles. My daughter, Maureen, helps the firm as well. It is very stimulating having a business with both of my children involved. I still enjoy the investment business, and I sit on the investment committee for three foundations. The challenge there is to help them with their investment objectives, selecting the most appropriate and best investment managers. Trying to understand our stock and bond markets is a constant challenge. One of those committees where I participate is the Falcon Foundation, which has been a great way to stay connected to USAFA at this stage of my life. I owe thanks to Jim Spittler and to Hugh Williamson for encouraging me to get involved. It is also great to see our classmate, Jay Kelly, take over as president. I was encouraged to write this by my friend, Jim Renschen. In preparing to do it, I read many of our class histories. The stories are incredible. Doing this again reinforced how proud I am to be a member of the class of 1964.
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