Monday, January 10, 2011

No More Squiggles! RIP Uncle Jim Fisk

(Press Release by Christina T. Fisk) James Donald Fisk, known to Capital District baby-boomers as "Uncle Jim Fisk", host of the Freihofer Breadtime Stories television show and to regional travelers as the patriarch of JIMAPCO Maps, passed away at the Ellis Center January 8, 2011 following a short illness.

Born in Glens Falls, NY in 1919, he was the son of David Simpson Fisk and Grace Gibson Fisk of Hudson Falls. Jim's father was a prominent attorney in Hudson Falls, and the family resided at 235 Main Street from 1921 - 67. He attended Hudson Falls schools and then attended Antioch College and Yale University, studying math and theatrical set design. His graduate education was interrupted by World War II, where he served as an officer in the US Army's 96th AA Regiment, and later in the newly formed 7th Army, touring the Pacific, European, and African theaters. He married Jane Gitsham in 1942 while on a short military leave. He returned home to Hudson Falls in 1945.

In an event that might be said to be prophetic, Jim recalled a visit in the mid 1930's to the attic of a Hudson Falls neighbor, Johnny Mills, chief engineer for the Sandy Hill Iron and Brass Works. Mr. Mills had created a huge contraption to receive a television image that was being experimentally broadcast by GE in Schenectady. Mr. Mills kept informed as to when the signals were being broadcast so that he could work on improving signal reception. The Fisk's neighbor was one of the earliest scientists working on the development of this new medium which ultimately would come to define a large portion of Jim Fisk's life.

In 1945 Jim moved his family to Scotia and went to work at WRGB in Schenectady. Getting in on the ground floor of this exciting new technology was a dream come true, and he was immediately able to apply his considerable artistic and creative talents to the myriad challenges of live television. Television programming in those days had a "Wild West" aura to it -- there were nearly no formats, rules, or standards. Programs were all locally produced and live. Everybody did everything. Elaborate backgrounds, visual aids, sets, and signs, created in a "beat the clock" environment were all in a day's work. Jim's contributions spanned the needs of the new enterprise, including painting the lobby of the WRGB building with a whimsical mural of all the gadgets and gizmos that depicted the innards of WRGB's television workings (see photo).

In July 1956, Jim moved his family to Burnt Hills, and was named the new host of the children's show, Freihofer's Breadtime Stories. Every day he'd create the stories, write the commercials, do his own costume and makeup, and conduct a pre-show warm up. He was responsible for the tickets and the promotion. He was also the general staff art director. He remained in this post until 1968 when syndicated television began to make local programming obsolete.

Jim's next career was already well underway in the form of JIMAPCO, "Maps to swear by, not at!" Jim's first map, which started out as a hobby, was of Burnt Hills, the community he'd call home for 50 years. The map was created to help organize a church canvassing project, but he needed to print 2000 of them, so asked Veeder and Yelverton Drug store to try to sell the excess. The local maps sold well, and JIMAPCO was born. This little Burnt Hills church map and its progression to a retail map product was just a fluke - a fluke that turned into a viable and enduring business. With each successive map, Jim refined the process that he invented as he went along. Over time, Jim oversaw the development of over 115 products sold throughout the country. Jim retired from JIMPACO in 1991, although he remained active as a designer for JIMAPCO well into his 80s. He was also was a reliable source of creative design solutions for all sorts of logistical challenges.

Throughout his life, Jim participated in broad variety of community projects and services, including the Burnt Hills Ambulance Squad, the Burnt Hills Library Board, the Burnt Hills Methodist Church, and various school and charitable endeavors. He also enjoyed a number of creative and productive hobbies, which included building a sailboat, creating and licensing word puzzles, and building elaborate model train scenarios.

Jim Fisk was predeceased in 1981 by his first wife, Jane Gitsham Fisk. He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Mary Lou Fisk; his sister, Grace Elizabeth Giddings; his four children, David (Christina), Thomas (Margaret), Barbara (Gregory) Gachowski, Sarah (Kevin) West; stepdaughter Margo Ryerson; six grandchildren, Stacy Mendrick and Michael Fisk, Jamie Gachowski and Stephanie Hample, Erika and Connor West; three step-grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, 73 Midline Rd., Ballston Lake, NY on January 22 at 11:00.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be directed to the Make a Wish Foundation, the Adirondack Lyme Disease Foundation, the local animal shelter, or the charity of one's choice.

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