February 2012 Issue
A Lifetime of Knowledge
by Andrew Talevich
Dan Wilkins (Richmond 1963) and Jim Mims (Richmond 1940) had worked side by side as members of their Richmond, Virginia chapter of the Rotary Club for almost 20 years. Wilkins never had the slightest idea that his colleague and friend was also a Lambda Chi Alpha brother.
One day, while sitting around a table at a weekly Rotary Club meeting, Wilkins was talking with three of his brothers from the Alpha-Chi chapter of the University of Richmond about their experiences in the fraternity in the 60s.
At that point Mims, who recently celebrated his hundredth birthday, turned around and nonchalantly said that he too was a brother from Alpha-Chi, from many years earlier.
“I about dropped my teeth, here’s a guy who at that time was 99 years old and was a Lambda Chi,” Wilkins said. “How many 100-year-old Lambda Chis are out there?”
Wilkins made a phone call to Lambda Chi Alpha International Headquarters to check if Mims was in fact a brother and to find out his zeta number.
It was confirmed. The staff sent Wilkins a list of Alpha-Chi alumni. Mims had been an undergraduate in the chapter 23 years before Wilkins.
“I looked on the list and sure enough, James R. Mims, number 243,” Wilkins said.
The Life of Mims
Mims, who turned 100 on Dec. 2, is a man who lives a life full of service and compassion. He has been a member of Rotary Club for 56 years, the Society of American Military Engineers for 80 years, and the Navy League.
He joined Lambda Chi Alpha before World War II, first pledging with the University of Maryland, and then eventually joining the University of Richmond chapter. Mims said a favorite professor recommended he should give Lambda Chi Alpha a try.
Mims would later join the Navy in 1943, during World War II. While in the Navy, Mims became a captain and served throughout the Pacific theater.
“I joined the Navy to see what it was like to be on a ship but, because I was a civil engineer, I got to load a lot of them,” he said. “I traveled from one place to another; Pearl (Harbor), Saipan, Eniwetok, and Okinawa.”
Mims still honors his military service today by volunteering with the Navy League, an organization that educates, enhances, and supports the sea services of the Navy. Mims jokingly refers to his position at the Navy League as “a telephone girl” who answers the phones in their office every Wednesday morning.
After his tenure in the military Mims worked in the fields of civil engineering and construction.
“I mean the man is just incredible. I can’t say any more than that. He’s just incredible for what he does and everything,” Wilkins said.
Despite the astonishment many people have of Mims, he is humble about his accomplishments and his record of service throughout the years.
“They always figure that people are wise when they grow old and I’ve been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, but I need to live a little longer before this wisdom catches up with me,” Mims said.
Among his colleagues at Rotary Club, Mims is very popular, in part because he makes it a priority to call each of the members on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.
“It’s a personal thing,” he said. “And some people tell me, ‘You saved my life, I forgot about my wedding anniversary.’”
Mims is also the first person to arrive at the Rotary Club meeting every Friday morning. He takes the initiative to greet each person, sometimes upwards of 80 members, by name.
In his old age, Mims has not slowed down. He recently had his driver’s license renewed so he can continue to be engaged in his volunteer efforts.
“You better give the old man a lot of room when I come by in my old Buick,” Mims jokes.
Strong Alumni Connections
Wilkins acts as glue that holds a faithful group of Alpha-Chi alumni together. Mims is one addition to a list of several brothers with whom Wilkins has recently become reacquainted.
Four years ago Wilkins took up the task of finding those brothers who lived with him while he was an undergraduate in the Alpha-Chi chapter. He was able to track down a large number of brothers who lived as close as Richmond and as far away as Pennsylvania.
The reacquainted brothers now gather every year for Richmond’s homecoming football game.
The celebration is complete with bloody marys and lunch at Wilkins’ house, followed by a visit to the Alpha-Chi chapter house (called the Lodge), and topped off with the football game.
During the last homecoming gathering, Wilkins said that between 45 and 50 brothers attended.
A Reunion of Lambda Chis
Wilkins’ efforts to reacquaint himself and his brothers coincide with the resurgence of the Alpha-Chi chapter. The chapter recolonized in the spring and recently moved back into the Lodge.
Wilkins brought Mims to Alpha-Chi’s Associate Member Ceremony on Dec. 15. Surrounded by alumni and current members, Mims witnessed the next generation of young men joining the brotherhood of Lambda Chi Alpha.
Mims had the opportunity to meet the young men and pass along his wisdom.
Chapter president Thomas Johnson is grateful for the alumni support his chapter has received from brothers from the University of Richmond and other schools that have helped rebuild their chapter.
“Their continued support exemplifies the meaning of a lifetime of brotherhood,” Johnson said. “Also, the successes of alumni speak volumes to younger brothers and rushees when it comes to joining the fraternity in the first place, because they see how the fraternity helped shape the success of the alumni.”
Lessons to Learn From
Mims’ secret to living so long is that he learned to say, “yes dear” at an early age and always put family first.
As a testament to Mims’ close bond with his family, for his hundredth birthday 49 family members from 14 different states and Canada visited Mims in Richmond. Mims admits there were some family members he’d never seen before.
Wilkins and Mims now have a slightly different relationship since Wilkins found out that he and Mims are not only colleagues in Rotary Club but also brothers in Lambda Chi Alpha.
“I think it feels that we’re a little bit apart from the regular thing. I think it’s a brotherhood feeling that you don’t get everywhere else,” Mims said.
Asked if Mims would join Wilkins and his large gathering of Alpha-Chi brothers for next year’s homecoming celebrations, Wilkins said that it might be too much for Mims to handle in his old age.
Then he paused, thought and chuckled, “I don’t know, maybe he will.”
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