Cover photo for James Stephen Koehn's Obituary
James Stephen Koehn Profile Photo

James Stephen Koehn

September 14, 1971 — December 14, 2022

Paw Paw

James passed away far too soon, on December 14, 2022 from Stage 4 melanoma.  He died at home with his wife beside him.

While his birth certificate reads “James Stephen Koehn,” few ever called him that.  He more often responded to, “Jimmy”, “Jim”, “James”, “Mr. James”, “Jimmy Bonz” or “Chief.” Regardless of what name you used, James meant laughter, love and focusing on the simple joys in life.

Jimmy, the youngest by far of four, spent a portion of his childhood on a small farm in Yale, Michigan.  When chores were done, he often took off with a piece of rope, a pocket knife and a hot dog in his pocket to explore and play and discover the world with his hands and his heart. He tinkered, he imagined, and he dreamt of one day being a fireman or a police officer.

In high school, Jimmy played baseball, mowed lawns and stocked shelves at the grocery store.  He umpired youth baseball games, relishing opportunities to help the kids learn the basics far more than the actual calling of balls and strikes.  During his senior year, the grocery store promoted him to working at the meat counter, a move that unknowingly began his career in the meat industry.

Over the next several years, Jimmy/Jim would dabble in all the things that made his heart sing.  He took courses in criminal justice, worked three jobs at times and volunteered as a fireman.   He drove a tractor as often as possible, working ground or baling hay for local farmers - an itch to be out in the fields that never left him.  But, as much as these pursuits helped to shape the man he would become, it was the people around him who proved to be even more influential. The Brockway Fire Department took Jimmy in as a volunteer, but treated him like a son. Likewise, at C. Roy and Sons Processing in Yale, Jim wasn’t just an employee, he was part of the family and remained so for the rest of his days.

Jim eventually took a position with the USDA which moved him across the state to Plainwell, Michigan where he first worked as an inspector but eventually moved into meat grading, briefly moving to Souderton, Pennsylvania.  He stayed only a couple of years there before returning back to Plainwell to continue working in grading but closer to family and friends.  Working for the USDA, Jim met people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs and life stories.  He joked easily and enjoyed laughing with everyone.  He earned the nickname “Jimmy Bonz'' at work after insisting with one friend that he could, in fact, be “a gangsta.”  It was the camaraderie of the people around him that made his otherwise uneventful days something to look forward to.

In 2008, Jim met his wife, Amy, while watching a game at a bar.  Initially stunned that they had lived within two miles of each other in Pennsylvania, it quickly became apparent that they had been destined to meet all along and they married two years later.  James instantly became a welcomed part of the family.  He brought humor and laughter to his role as stepdad and husband and enjoyed being the fixer, the provider, the problem-solver and the entertainer as often as possible.  He became almost as attached to Amy’s elementary students as she did, often visiting her classroom and helping with special events.  Known to the kids as “Mr. James,” he often stayed for a bit after bringing Amy lunch just to see the students.  He began mentoring one in particular, a connection that lasted for years and benefited James as much as the student.

In 2015, James and Amy started living out their dream in earnest when they bought property in Paw Paw, Michigan.  Within a year and a half, two highland cows grazed the newly created pastures, maple syrup was being made each winter and a substantial garden was enjoyed in the summer.  Within a few more years, two more calves were in the field, an addition went onto the barn, a flock of chickens was added and they had begun planning for sheep, the latter of which never came to fruition - an addition put on hold with his cancer diagnosis.  “Chief” as Amy called him, gave life to every dream they shared.  Their most treasured memories were days working together on the farm.

James loved spending time in a yellow seat, sitting on the front porch, and laughing with friends.  He would generously do anything for anyone and would strike up conversations with strangers on a regular basis, especially old men.  He loved taking the back roads in his truck, or riding with the top down on the Jeep.  He loved playing cards, puttering in the barn and “scrapping” with his nephew.  He dreamt of visiting Montana, riding a bull and seeing the redwood trees with his wife.

He made the notion of a “traveling shirt” legendary in the family and he even had a special spot by the barn where he would take time out of doing chores to fry up some sausage or bacon over an open fire.  He was the kind of man who stopped whatever he was doing to bring his wife a bird’s nest, a painted turtle or a baby rabbit.  James “re-homed” the racoons that got into the bird feeders, got up in the middle of the night to let the cat out and then again to let her back in, always had cow treats in the front pocket of his bibs, and enjoyed regular naps with the dog.  He loved his animals and believed, perhaps to offset his profession, that his life’s work was to give them a home where they were loved and cared for humanely.

If you had the honor of knowing James, you knew that he was unabashedly funny.  He was known for embarrassing his wife with his antics in Hobby Lobby or Meijer and he made road trips and karaoke bonfire nights something to relish when he sang every word to “Convoy” or Katy Perry’s “Roar.” He could quote nearly every line in the movie “Tombstone” and envied the passionate courage of “Rip” from “Yellowstone.”  Words often failed him, but that never stopped James from saying them anyways.  He strongly and honestly believed the idioms as he said them, even when they made no sense and his attempts to pronounce some words often left everyone in stitches.

James suffered the losses of his grandparents, his father, Gerald Koehn, his sister JoAnn Miller and his stepdad, Henry Roose.  He is survived by the love of his life, Amy, his stepson, Jacob (Carissa) Fenton, his sister Tina Parrish, brother, Jerry (Margie) Koehn and mother, Evelyn Roose as well as several nieces and nephews.  But the list of those who have to move forward in this world without him is long and wide.  His friends stretched across the state and beyond.  His touch on people’s lives reaches from his childhood until his death.

No services are planned at this time.  If you wish to honor the legacy of James, his family encourages you to plant a tree, adopt a pet, mentor a child, or volunteer for a cause close to your heart.  Monetary donations can also be made to Centrica Care Navigators, Brockway Fire Department in Yale, Michigan or the Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan. Whatever you do, James would want you to live your life to the fullest right now, today; to love with your whole heart; to never underestimate the power of a good laugh and above all, wear sunscreen.  Even inside your ears.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of James Stephen Koehn, please visit our flower store.


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