Truly Embodying the American Spirit

 

 

JIM NARENS REFLECTS ON THE LEGACY HE
HAS BUILT WHILE SERVING HIS COUNTRY, WORKING HARD AND GROWING HIS FAMILY

  by LISA PORTERFIELD THOMPSON

 
 photo by Molly Kendrick

photo by Molly Kendrick

Define American. Is it where we are born? How we are raised? Is it something we become? Perhaps American is a state-of- mind, or maybe it’s something that cannot be altogether defined. Perhaps the American spirit is amorphous. Most people have an image that comes to mind when they consider what it means to be American. Words like “red-blooded,” “pragmatic,” and “patriotic” spring forward, but do we ever stop to consider that American, or the true spirit of America, might be embodied in the everyday? Could it be the everyday kind of people that make our communities special? Perhaps what makes a person American is that they are uniquely diverse from the expected, yet so distinctly sold-out on the idea of freedom and sacrifice. It’s almost a higher calling to be truly American. Sure, we can all live here and call this great United States our home, but are we truly American if we don’t function as a citizen of this nation and consider ourselves a neighbor, voter, volunteer, friend?

Jim Narens is the quintessential American: red-blooded, good-hearted, hardworking, and self-sacrificing.

Jim’s habit of sacrifice started at a young age and was earned honestly. His father was a U.S. Marine, injured in the battle of Iwo Jima, and left without hearing or sight. When he finished his service to his country, he resided in St. Louis, Missouri, met Jim’s mother at the veterans’ hospital where she was a nurse and the two married. Jim’s father died when he was young, leaving his mother with 8 children to raise.

  ^ In 1970, Jim prepared his pack for field training after returning to Fort Benning from a 3-day Thanksgiving pass. 

^ In 1970, Jim prepared his pack for field training after returning to Fort Benning from a 3-day Thanksgiving pass. 

When his mother moved the family back to Texarkana to be closer to her family on June 6, 1964, Jim was finishing the eighth grade. He was the second oldest of all the children, and so he began to care for everyone else.

Jim attended Arkansas High School, where he met his future wife, Carolyn. The two married in October, shortly after graduation, and just before Jim was hired at Cooper Tire in February of 1969. The following spring in April 26, 1970, Jim was drafted into the United States Army.

After completing basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, Jim completed Tigerland Advanced Infantry Training, and then was selected to go to Noncommissioned Officers Academy (NCO) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. At this point, he and Carolyn already had two children, and so, the family went together to Georgia.

Jim finished NCO Academy as a sergeant and decided to go to jump school so his family could stay together. “Carolyn was already there with me, and if I went to jump school, she and the girls could stay with me,” he said. “Plus, the Army was going to pay me $55 more a month to jump out of airplanes. At the time, it seemed like a good enough reason.“

Jim became a part of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Fury from the Sky.” He was given a squad and eventually ended up commanding soldiers who had experienced Vietnam. “It was my job to prepare them for what was ahead, take care of them, and make sure that if they were deployed again they could come home safely,” he said. “I took that responsibility very seriously.” 

Jim’s last jump was in 1973 at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas. After his military service, he returned to Texarkana and his job at Cooper Tire as a general laborer. In 1974, he bid on a journeyman position sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and was awarded the job. In 1979, after 8,000 hours of apprenticeship, Jim was certified as a journeyman electrician. By this time, Carolyn and Jim had four children.

“Cooper always afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family,” Jim said, “and I have taken it. Every time, throughout my career, that I thought about looking for another job, I started to weigh the pros and cons of working at Cooper and always decided that staying would be best for my family.”

  ^  Carolyn and Jim stand outside of Blair Castle in Scotland while listening to the bagpiper in September 2016. 

^  Carolyn and Jim stand outside of Blair Castle in Scotland while listening to the bagpiper in September 2016. 

Jim has had perfect attendance at Cooper for the past 26 years. “For the first 24 years, I tried my best to be there, but when you have a young family and small children, you inevitably have to miss work,” he said. “After the kids were grown and gone, I just came to work every day.”

Jim’s eyes light up when he talks of his children. He and Carolyn have a total of five children. Catherine, Christina, Jim, Colleen, and David have given them a total of 14 grandchildren. 

Mosley. When Cooper Tire’s schedule changed, Jim was forced to give up his involvement with Little League sports. “I knew coaching couldn’t be a part-time gig,” Jim said. “If I was going to volunteer, I wanted to be there for those kids every time. So, Carolyn bought me season tickets to Razorback baseball that year to compensate, and I’ve been a raving fan ever since.” Jim and Carolyn travel to every Razorback baseball home game played in Baum Stadium.

At work, Jim has served as a union steward for the United Steel Workers Local 752L for the past 16 years, which means accompanying coworkers through disciplinary hearings and other stressful situations. This position is elected yearly, and is yet another example of how highly Jim is regarded among his peers.

In early 2019, Jim will retire from Cooper Tire Company. He will be six days shy of celebrating 50 years with the company, but will work right up until the last day possible and still get his buyout. He seems excited about the future. “Carolyn and I have started traveling,” he said. “We’ve been to Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward, England, Scotland, France, Rome, Italy, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ireland. We went to Patagonia last May, and we try to hunt in each place we go,” he said. “We’ve already booked a trip back to Scotland this fall.”

Jim and Carolyn no doubt have an exciting future ahead. And it is much deserved.

As he reflects back on the legacy built with his career, and family, and then shifts his thoughts to what is still left to do, Jim was a bit nostalgic, but remained fixed on the idea that hard work and knowledge is key to achieving the American dream.

Jim recalls that when the children were young, he wrote the following quote on a dry erase board in their kitchen: “Education is the key to freedom.”

Seems sort of ironic for a guy whose very education was built on service to his country, hard work, earned experience, and life lessons. And indeed, it has provided him freedom. True, red-blooded, American freedom.