By CHRIS LARICK
How Jim Pinney found the time to accomplish everything he did at Deming High School is a mystery.
Pinney, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 8, played basketball for four years, baseball for three and track for two at Deming between 1955-1958, the latter his graduation year. He was also in chorus for two years, was a class officer as a freshman and senior, worked on the newspaper staff his junior and senior years, was in the class play as a junior and senior, worked on the class yearbook and was a student council member as a senior.
On the court, he was just one of two returnees for his senior year, alongside senior guard Duane Carr. The Rangers didn’t do too well that year, especially since only one player, 6-foot-2 Tom Lautanen, stood taller than 6-feet. The other starters of the Deming squad, which was coached by Ron Mahon, a Thiel College graduate, were chosen from a group that included George Skleres, Russ Otto, Ron Lipps and Ron Turner. Other players on the team included Chet Paul, Charles Prosser, Bob Gray, Dan Boyle, Keith Palmer, Paul Piontkowski, Paul Olah and Walter Barnes.
Though the Rangers struggled that senior year (1957-58), winning three of nine games this reporter was able to find box scores for, Pinney was a standout, ranking third in the County League in scoring (to Conneaut’s Harry Fails and Grand Valley's Lou Bishop) with 281 points in 15 games, an 18.7 average. Pinney scored 25 points against Kingsville, 23 against Rock Creek and 22 against Austinburg, his best performances. In a track meet that year he won the 220-yard dash in 29.7 and finished second in the 100-yard dash.
After Pinney graduated, Kent State’s Ashtabula campus opened and Pinney joined the only athletic team that year, men’s basketball, where he joined Lennie Czuchra, Paul Olah, Jack Incorvia, Gary Mizer and Brian Gaines.
His first day at Kent, Pinney met Nancy Halleen from Ashtabula.
“I noticed his smile and red shirt and the Love Story began,” Nancy now says.
The couple married on Dec. 12, 1959 and enjoyed more than 56 years of marriage before Jim’s death from cancer on Aug. 7, 2016 at the age of 76.
“Jim always worked,” Nancy said. “He worked at a gas station then Easton Brothers and Easton Excavating while in high school. He then worked for the New York Central Railroad for a short time. When they started Easton Culligan, he worked first delivering, servicing tanks then as a salesman for Culligan.
“He then went to work at Mayfran in Mayfield, a steel belt conveyor plant where he was a supervisor. He worked there about 29 years until he retired in 2002.”
In addition to playing basketball at Kent after graduation, Pinney enjoyed drag racing at Howland Raceway, where he drove a 1956 Ford Continental he called “The Golden Rod" and won many trophies.
Jim’s sister, Carol Porter, remembers how Jim walked from Deming to his home so he could play basketball and take part in all of the other activities he participated in in high school. In addition to Carol, Pinney had another sister, Gladys, who lives in Buffalo, Ohio; and a brother, Mark Rex in Ashtabula. His siblings remember him as working hard to achieve goals, especially buying his yellow Chevy ragtop convertible.
Jim also was a manager of the Little League in Colebrook, OH for eight years, helped with 4-H (horses), enjoyed golf and all other sports. After he retired, he loved riding his motorcycle. He was also an Awana Leader at Bethel Bible Church and a member of Gideon’s, speaking at churches and donating Bibles to hospitals.
Other activities he favored were traveling: to conventions with Culligan; to Kelley’s Island with family and friends; camping at Easton’s Lake, vacationing in North Carolina with his family; and to Niagara Falls with his grandchildren. Pinney always had animals, including horses, cows, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs, while living in New Lyme and Colebrook.
“He loved nature,” Nancy said.
“Jim worked hard and taught his children to work hard, use their imagination and innovation to accomplish a task. Jim sacrificed by making a long drive to work every day so his family could be raised in the country. He had fun building forts with his kids, inspired imagination and was always available to his grandchildren to discuss their thoughts and, of course, politics.”
Pinney worked a lot around his house, having a pond dug for the family to enjoy and building a basketball court for the grandchildren.
He always had a project he was working on. That could be a “Buttons treasure chest” for his grandchildren (now found in a secret hideout in his great-grandchildren’s forts) or making hurdles for his granddaughters to practice jumping for track.
He loved to tell scary stories around the campfire, cut trees and clear land to provide firewood for his mother and stepfather in addition to his own home.
“He took pride in his home and vehicles, but most of all in his family,” Nancy said. “He was proud of all his children. After a long day of work, he would sit at the dining table with me, have tea and discuss the day. He was a leader, active, responsible, determined, truthful, humble and helped others.”
Pinney’s children include Jim, 57, who is a foreman for a pipefitter’s union in Scranton, Pa.; Nick, 56, an electrician in Jefferson, Deb, 53, an RN in Jefferson; Jeff, 51, who works at CIO in Dublin, OH; and Jill, 38, a former English teacher who stays home raising children currently in Brecksville, OH.
“All Jim’s children love the outdoors, sports, animals and working on projects,” Nancy said. “They invest their time in family, volunteering, coaching and helping others.”