James Spain Jr.

HOUGHTON — James Dorris Spain Jr. passed away on April 7, 2024, at the age of 95 in his adopted hometown of Houghton, Michigan surrounded by friends and family.

In 2017, Jim was preceded in death by his wife of nearly 65 years, Patricia “Pat” Mann Spain, and survived by his brother George J Spain (Bev), his son, James W. (Shelley), and daughters Caryn Ann Spain and Mary Alisa (Gary) Guertin, as well as six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His inquiring mind remained fully engaged until the end.

Jim devoted his life to education, teaching college-level courses for over 40 years. Born in Washington, DC, Jim’s early years were spent in several Southeast locales before graduating high school in New Orleans. As a child, Jim knew that he would someday become a chemist, often telling how he would perform a wide variety of experiments in the basement with a chemistry set his father had given him. Not entirely fond of the climate in the south, he decided on a radical change matriculating at Michigan Tech for his undergraduate degree. There he met several life-long friends and gained a profound love for the Copper Country that he maintained throughout his life.

He often told a story about how a person’s life can turn on a dime. After graduating from Tech, he was accepted by the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, but was waiting for word from his first choice, Purdue. The deadline approached and he chose MCV. A few days later he was accepted by Purdue. That fateful turn of events sent Jim to Richmond and into the arms of his soul mate, Patricia, who he had coincidentally known since childhood.

While obtaining his Masters of Science and Technology at MCV, he married Pat and then it was off to Stanford to obtain a Ph.D. in Chemistry. The couple then moved to Houston where Jim worked as a post-doctoral fellow on Cancer therapies at M.D. Anderson. He liked to say two things about that year. 1) they were all certain that the cure for cancer was but a few years away and 2) the weather in Houston is miserable. One of these is true.

In 1956, They returned to the Copper Country with a position as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. When Michigan Tech formed the new Department of Biological Sciences, Jim was elevated to full professor and was honored to be their first Department Head. Subsequent research interests include Limnology (study of lake ecology) and early Computer simulations of biologic processes.

In 1985, having taken early retirement from MTU, Jim moved on to Clemson University where he was a lecturer in General Chemistry and Director of the Chemistry Computerized Instructional Laboratory. In 1995, he again retired to focus on his business, Electronic Homework Systems, Inc. One of his greatest accomplishments was the creation of the leading-edge instructional computer program for General Chemistry (Chemskil Builder) with over 750,000 copies of the software program sold over 16 years. In 2011, he and Pat sold their business and returned to living full time in the Copper Country, where they enjoyed life at the Bluffs.

In recent years he was able to complete his life story in the book, Perusing for Pioneer Pathways, an entertaining exploration of Jim’s experiences in Science and Technology, focusing on the lessons of his life.

Jim will be missed by his loving family and friends, and long remembered by the many students that he influenced in these past 95 years. He will be interred with Pat at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Houghton, Michigan.

In lieu of flowers, Jim’s family suggests a donation to the Omega House, 2211 Maureen Lane, Houghton, MI 49931.

To view Jim’s obituary or to send condolences to the family please visit www.memorialchapel.net.

The Memorial Chapel Funeral & Cremation Service – Hancock Chapel has been assisting the family with the arrangements.