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James Birch

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James R Birch, Jr., of Mt. Zion, IL, passed peacefully on December 10, 2022, in St. Mary’s ICU. Born June 29, 1950, in Evansville, IN, he was the son of James R. Birch, Sr., and Dorothy Mary Birch.
Jim graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1968, and from University of California, Berkeley, where he studied history. He served in the US Army, and was a veteran of the Viet Nam War, stationed in Korea. After moving back to Central Illinois, he spent many years coaching girls’ softball for Central IL Girls’ Softball, serving as President of CIGS for several years. He loved seeing the girls strive and reach their potential, and was particularly gratified by being instrumental in helping them receive softball scholarships to further their education. He was retired from Akorn Pharmaceuticals as a validation engineer.
Jim has always been an avid fisherman and loved sharing his passion for the sport with family and friends, and shared special memories of fishing in Robinson Creek near Shelbyville as a young boy. He was a huge Cubs fan and enjoyed following high school and college football and basketball.
Jim is survived by his parents; his brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Paula Birch, Decatur; nieces and nephews and their children. His sister, Lacy Birch Berry, preceded him in death.
A private graveside service will be held by the family. Memorials may be made to American Lung Association and Special Olympics through their respective websites.
Condolences and memories may be shared at
Addendum to family obituary:

A few words from Brenda S Zombro, Jim’s best friend…
How can I describe Jim to you so you understand what a special person he is? I can tell you about his irreverent wit, his passionate progressivism, his love of history. The way he looks at me with such love in his eyes that I can hardly bear it.

I can tell you who he loves. His family. Mom and Dad, Tom (Tommy!) and Paula (his ‘Cubs buddy’!). My family. Jer and Baylee. Jason and Chelsea. Luke and Max. How Luke makes his heart ache in a way that he doesn’t understand and that one of his greatest sorrows is that he will never see the men they will become. I can even tell you about his love for the Chicago Cubs, which he expresses with lots of exasperation.

What a great communicator! He is so good with words. He crafted some of the best texts I’ve ever read. And I don’t know if I ever told him, but he has one of the best analytical minds I’ve come across. He was able to take a situation, ask the right questions, and give wise council. He was uniquely capable of introspection – ‘taking internal inventory’ – and asking hard questions about his motives and behaviors, and expressing his thoughts with eloquence.

And I have to tell you about his books! Stack and piles and bookcases full of his beloved books. They are a comfort and a passion. Lists of books…lists of lists…reading projects that are color-coded and complicated. I’m still receiving books from his last Amazon order that he will never get to read. He read deeply and eclectically. Although he is a retired validation engineer, at heart he has remained that Berkeley-trained historian that retains the stories of history and relates them in such an engaging way, taking the lessons of history to make sense of our world today. I’ve been an appreciative pupil of these history lessons, although he is dismayed at my lack of retention (‘what a maroon…’).

Education meant so much to Jim. He told many stories about his time at Berkeley – about the people that he met there that were influential and became part of his life. Jim said the most valuable thing his Berkeley education taught him was how to think critically. But you know, I think he was pretty good at that already.

All of these things tell you about Jim and how special he was, but I’m unable to describe the unique quality, the ’Jim-ness’ that I was so privileged to know. All I can say is that I am truly a better person for having known him, and his passing has left a void that I will never get over.