James Eickelberg was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on June 28, 1930, the son of Ernest and Leona Fohlbrook Eickelberg. He attended public schools there before enrolling at the University of Iowa to study commerce. Thanks to the Korean War, he knew his career destination upon graduation in 1952. He joined the Air Force with the hope of becoming a navigator, but because there were so many with the same aspiration, anyone who wore glasses was ultimately cut from the roster. Jim was assigned to the transportation detail but was never sent overseas. “We fought the battles of Indiana, Texas, and California—and won all of those,” he joked. After he was discharged in 1954, he took advantage of the GI Bill and returned to college to fulfill a dream he’d had since junior high school days—to go to law school. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1958.
Jim had seen parts of Oregon while in the Air Force, and he dreamed of returning. He obtained a temporary job with the State of Oregon, which gave him a chance to look for a permanent job—and that’s when he discovered the Willamette Valley. A position with a law firm here in Corvallis brought him to town. Three years later, after that firm dissolved, he started his own practice. Jim served as City Attorney for ten years, from 1964 to 1974, maintaining his own practice. From 1978 until his retirement in 1996, he was in partnership with Scott Fewel. Jim raised three children from a previous marriage, all of whom attended Corvallis schools.
His second wife, Phyllis, had been a client briefly twenty-five years ago, and later she worked for him part-time as a typist. It was an ideal job for a single woman with young children because she could choose the hours she worked. She decided to become a legal secretary and went on to work for an attorney in Albany. Jim didn’t see her again for about nine years. They became reacquainted in 1986 and were married two years later, on December 24, 1988, the day before her birthday.
A Paul Harris Fellow and past president of the Rotary Club of Greater Corvallis, Jim was appointed to the BCF board of directors in 1976. He served two three-year terms, including two years as board president. It was through the Foundation that Jim made the acquaintance of Bev Larson, director of the Old Mill Center.
Bev has been the inspiration and foundation for the Center since its beginnings in the late 1970s. Jim and Phyllis had been supporting the Old Mill Center for Families and Children financially for years. Instead of asking Jim for legal advice or professional assistance, Bev asked him to help out in the preschool classroom after his retirement. He got involved because he couldn’t say “no” to Bev. He stayed because he got hooked on the kids.
In 1998, Jim established the James Eickelberg Fund to support the Old Mill Center for Children and Families, where he spent some of the happiest and most satisfying hours of his life.