BARAGA - In the passing of Jim Dompier, Baraga County and the wider Copper Country has lost a lifelong learner and teacher.
"You couldn't call him a former teacher," said colleague Bertha Rogers. "He was always teaching. He never stopped."
Dompier, 74, died Saturday at his son's home in Blaine, Minn., where he was recuperating from cancer treatments. His home, however, and his heart, remained in Baraga where he was born and raised.
Photo courtesy Dompier family
Baraga County native Jim Dompier proudly stands next to a field of corn he grew the summer of 2012. An avid teacher, gardener and volunteer, Dompier died of cancer Saturday at the age of 74.
Rogers, who worked with Dompier through the Michigan State Extension 4-H program from 1985 until Dompier's retirement in 2002 as Baraga County Extension director, said she was impressed by his extensive knowledge of the area.
"We traveled a lot to do training, throughout the state, and wherever we went, he knew something about the places we were passing through," she said. "I'm not originally from Baraga, but I learned a lot about it through Jim."
Dompier made an impression wherever he went, she said, a sentiment echoed by Michigan State Extension Director Jim Krenek, who recruited Dompier for the position of 4-H Youth Agent in 1977.
"I saw Jim having the desire to serve, I saw him as being very personable, and I saw him as always thinking about ways to improve the program," Krenek said. "He wasn't afraid to sit on the floor to help a child glue pieces of wood together, and always with a smile on his face."
In the mid-1980s, Dompier was honored with a Michigan 4-H Distinguished Service Award for his excellence in youth work in Baraga, Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw counties. In presenting the award, the MSU Extension Association of 4-H Staff praised Dompier "for his ability to motivate and train staff members and for being a model teacher and leader for both staff members and clients alike," as stated in a Daily Mining Gazette article.
"He had excellent rapport with both children and adults," Krenek said. "He helped bring training opportunities to the area for youth and for leaders, he organized events, he was just all about service."
Krenek said he first met Dompier when the latter worked as L'Anse/Baraga Community Schools director and subsequently, as chair of the Baraga County Board of Commissioners. When it came time to fill the new 4-H Youth Agent position, Krenek said Dompier was the man he wanted.
"He was always very positive and upbeat," Krenek said, adding Dompier proved to not only meet his expectations but exceed them.
"He was a visionary," Krenek said. "He could see opportunities for building people. They were not necessarily what was the tried and true; they were sometimes things that were out of the ordinary. And usually those ideas brought great success."
Rogers remembers the little things, like Dompier's fancy for having a nickname for everyone. Hers was "Miss B."
"Once we were traveling not long after a snowstorm and the roads were sloppy," she remembers. "Jim had no windshield wiper fluid, and we couldn't see very well. We were on the freeway and weren't supposed to stop. He turned to me and said 'Miss B, you're going to have to get out and throw snow on the windshield.' Well, there wasn't any question whether I was going to do it, and we did it a couple of times before we made it to a gas station."
Mainly, Rogers remembers Dompier's love of the kids.
"Every year, at one of the first meetings, he would teach the kids how to make microwave caramel popcorn," she said. "I'm not sure who loved it more, him or the kids."
Dompier's appetite was legendary, whether it was tied to a bag of carrot sticks while traveling, or treats of less nutritional value.
"He liked to snack," said neighbor Ilene LaPlante, who volunteered alongside Dompier at the St. Vincent de Paul store. "He was always eating something, sweets especially. If someone brought something in for us, he had to try it. He was our official tester."
Dompier served on the organization's board and on several committees, but LaPlante said his service didn't stop in the meeting room.
"He was involved with everything to do with the store," she said. "He priced things in the back, he decorated the front window, he put items out, he distributed food, he paid the bills. There wasn't anything he didn't have his hand in. His heart was just something giving."
In addition to a love of the finished product, Dompier also loved to grow his own food. He was awarded Baraga County Fair Master Gardener recognition three times, and helped to instill a love of gardening in others.
"There was nothing he loved more than showing off a ribbon a youth had won for their floral or vegetable exhibit at the fair," Krenek said. "He was always excited and encouraging, and knew so much about gardening himself."
As his energy began to wane last summer, Dompier found the strength to grow one last garden, said youngest son, Mark.
"He was so proud of that crop," he said. "The corn grew higher than his head."
By the fall, Dompier's legendary appetite had also declined. Still, he found the strength to pursue another true love of his - local history.
"Anything anyone ever asked him, he would know the answer to," said Shirley Johnson, who had volunteered with Dompier since 2005 at the Baraga County Historical Society Museum. "He was a walking encyclopedia for the county."
An avid genealogist, Dompier had been volunteering with the county's historical society for as long as anyone can remember, holding a variety of offices, most recently as its president. Volunteers were asked to work one day a week at the museum, Johnson said, but Dompier usually went above and beyond.
"If we didn't have the manpower, Jim filled in," she said.
His dedication to the museum was unquestioned, Johnson said, even when the cancer began to take its toll. In September 2012, a group of retired and current schoolteachers scheduled a visit to the museum, she said, with the aim of learning more about the county's history.
"I knew Jim wouldn't be up to it, but I contacted him to see who might be in town," Johnson said.
Dompier came in to lead the tour himself.
"He taught for a full hour, and never sat down once," she said. "The group was so impressed with his knowledge and his being so personable and friendly, they gave us the biggest donation we've ever had."
Visionary that he was, Dompier outlined his own obituary, son Mark said. Even still, he omitted many of his accomplishments.
Mark Wilcox, mentored as a 4-H program assistant by Dompier in 1994, said whatever Dompier did, he did with gusto.
"Jim was so involved in what he was doing, whatever it was, you felt he couldn't have been as involved in anything else," Wilcox said. "Whether it was 4-H or MSU Extension or the Historical Society, he put so much effort into it you forgot he was just as involved in other things. Everyone wanted to claim him."
A Mass will be held for Jim Dompier at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Baraga with lunch following the Mass. Visitation will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Reid Funeral Service and Chapel in L'Anse, with a St. Vincent de Paul service at 7:30. A full obituary can be found online at rfsc.net.