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Published: Friday, 5/27/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

James W. VanDeilen, 1942-2011: Lawyer played in trio, hosted a music show

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SWANTON -- James W. VanDeilen, a lawyer, former Toledo police officer, and musician who for five years was co-host of a radio show that featured the sounds he enjoyed most -- traditional country, bluegrass, and folk -- died of a heart attack Saturday at his Fulton County farm. He was 68.

He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1979 and continued to practice law.

"He was generous almost to a fault to his family and friends, a man who was respected in the legal community, who was reasonable and fair and a quality lawyer," said Jeffrey Johnston, a lawyer who was a friend the last 30 years.

"He had a good sense of right and wrong and yet had a sharp legal mind and was well versed in the rule of law," Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. VanDeilen offered the benefit of his life experience to friends and clients.

"He gave a really wise point of view when it came to dealing not only with legal matters, but personal matters," Mr. Johnston said. "His life had not been an easy one, but he managed to project a great personality and a willingness to counsel other people and help them resolve problems."

From 2002 to 2007, Mr. VanDeilen and J.J. O'Shea, a longtime friend, were hosts of the Sunday Ramble, a weekly radio program broadcast on WCWA-AM for most of its run. They played the types of music they played in their group, the Chicken Pickers, and that commercial radio stations didn't.

"There is no choice in music," Mr. VanDeilen told The Blade in 2003. "The conglomerates buy all these stations, and the stations play what they're told to play."

Mr. VanDeilen vowed that he and Mr. O'Shea would spotlight local musicians, "especially the senior guys who never had much applause," Mr. O'Shea said. "We'd bring the different bands on, and it was a big thing with us."

Mr. VanDeilen was self-taught in banjo and guitar and started playing music with friends in the early 1960s, Mr. O'Shea said.

"The Kingston Trio was the absolute rage, and we were nuts about the Kingston Trio and folk music in general," Mr. O'Shea said. "We couldn't get enough of it."

From the late 1960s into the 1970s, Mr. VanDeilen, Mr. O'Shea, and John Baertschi -- the Chicken Pickers -- played at venues around town.

"We played more places than you could shake a stick at. Sometimes we had two gigs a night and sometimes three," Mr. O'Shea said.

Mr. VanDeilen also was self-taught at the piano, tin whistle, Irish harp, and bodhran, a type of drum.

"He was full of life. He was bright as you can imagine," Mr. O'Shea said. "When you look at his accomplishments -- a policeman, a practicing lawyer and a good one, a master musician who loved music and the history of this country -- everything he did, he did well."

He was born Aug. 26, 1942, the son of Maxine and James VanDeilen. He was a 1960 graduate of DeVilbiss High School. He attended the University of Toledo on a football scholarship, but marriage and children caused him to leave the team. He attended school part-time and had summer jobs before he took a job with the Acklin Stamping Division of Tecumseh Products.

He was a Toledo police officer from 1966-77 and was assigned to the vice-metro drug unit.

He continued his education, receiving associate's and bachelor's, master's, and law degrees from the University of Toledo. He also taught at what is now University of Detroit-Mercy, what is now Owens Community College, UT, and Bowling Green State University.

For several years, he bred thoroughbred race horses at his farm. The horses he still cared for were retired, though he was not.

"He enjoyed watching them run," his wife, Ruth Anne Walsh, said. "He loved the thoroughbred's movement, their body, their disposition. He just loved the horses."

He was a dedicated golfer. He played golf with Mr. Johnston the day before he died.

"Jimmy and I played hundreds of rounds of golf all over the area," Mr Johnston said. "He was an excellent player. He counseled me in that respect as well. Whenever I would have trouble with the game, he would do his best to take time and correct that problem."

His marriages to Cynthia VanDeilen and the former Linda Smith ended in divorce.

Surviving are his wife, Ruth Anne Walsh; sons, James and William VanDeilen; daughter, Cynthia VanDeilen; mother, Maxine Smith; brother, Ron VanDeilen, and two grandchildren.

He was cremated, at his request. There will be no visitation or services, also at his request.

"He never wanted to be the center of attention. He didn't want people fussing over him," his wife said. "If people would go play golf, that to him would be the perfect tribute."

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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