Perry’s own Jim Haas remembered for honest leadership, kindliness

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Perry native Jim Haas was honored Thursday when his likeness was installed on the Wall of Witnesses in Soumas Court in a ceremony sponsored by the Perry Historic Preservation Commission and Hometown Heritage. Haas was born in Perry Jan. 10, 1922, and passed away in Perry Nov. 11, 2017, at the age of 95.

“He loved Perry, and Perry loved him back,” read the inscription soon to appear on the bas relief that was revealed under rainy skies in the 5 p.m. ceremony. Jim Haas’ son, Marty Haas of Johnston, drew aside the veil on his father’s image, the 25th figure to grace the Wall of Witnesses.

Marty Haas was joined at the ceremony by his niece, Jeflyn Gilman of Bondurant, and her 7-year-old son, Lennon, and by his nephew, Gregory Gilman of Las Vegas, and his wife, Amanda Gilman, their 2-year-old son, Oliver, and the 5-week-old infant Emilia, whose deportment during the round of commendatory speeches was exemplary.

Jim Haas’ dear friend and fellow Capricorn Wilma Collins, 92, of Perry also occupied a special place at the ceremony.

Marty Haas praised his father’s soft-spoken humility and said the expression, “He never forgot where he came from,” perfectly fit his father. To illustrate his words, he said Jim Haas, even after advancing to the important position of senior vice president at the Perry State Bank, chose to take a humble cubicle in center of lobby rather than a large, corner office befitting his high rank in the bank.

“So many people have said to me, ‘Your dad lent me money for my first mortgage,” or ‘Your dad helped me buy my first car,'” Marty said. “I sometimes think if it wasn’t for dad, Perry would just be a shack.”

Marty also noted Jim Haas’ quality of natural leadership and hinted at the disorders that can follow in the absence of competent and committed leadership.

“As we’re going through a period in the country where things aren’t going so well and, really, leadership it’s not a question — okay, I’m not going to get into any side. It just is,” Marty said. “This shows that we have people out there who can do things the way that they should be done.”

As a member of America’s Greatest Generation and the survivor of horrendous combat trauma in World War II, Jim Haas bore about him an aura of moral authority in Perry that others naturally respected.

“No matter what group he was in, he almost always ended up being in charge at least for a while,” Marty said. “He was just one of those people who took charge because he could see what had to be done.”

Jim Haas was also deeply devoted to his wife, Diana Haas, and was particularly attentive to her during her final sufferings with dementia, a quality of faith very widely admire. Marty Haas’ voice quavered when he mentioned his sister, Nancy Haas Gilman of Las Vegas, who now suffers with the same disease.

Marty said he was thankful to have some of his sister’s children and grandchildren with him at the Wall of Witnesses event.

Hometown Heritage Director Bill Clark welcomed the crowd of about 50 to the event, staged inside the Center for Towncraft for the rain. Clark recalled how astounded he was to learn of Jim Haas’ World War II heroism, about which experiences Haas never boasted.

Perry Historic Commission President Connie McGuire also praised Haas and briefly described the process for choosing honorees for the witness wall. Haas’ selection was announced in August by the Hometown Heritage.

Newton artist Rick Stewart said he spent many hour with photographs of Haas as well as with family and friends of the great man in order to acquire a sense of both his physical and spiritual image. He described the stages in the creative process of producing the bas relief, going from an oil-based clay over a wooden armature to a silicone rubber mold to a casting made of glass fiber reinforced concrete, “a high-tech cementous material, very long lived.”

Haas takes his honored place on the Soumas Court Wall of Witnesses alongside the venerable Perry figures of Flora Bailey, Cornelia Bulkley, Celeste Council, Earl Green, Virginia Green, V. T. “Snick” Hamlin, Betty Mae Harris, Eugene Hastie, Agnes Heightshoe, C. Durant Jones, Charles Joy, Michael Kanealy, Chaplain Horace Lewis, William McLuen, Fred Melick, Nora O’Malley, W. H. Osmundson, Hazel Purviance, Willie Tudor, John Turner, Dallas “Pete” VanKirk, Jim Walstrom, Roy “Snake” Whyte and Ned Willis.

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