Reed City grad, Veteran receives distinguished alumni award

George: 'It was actually a blessing to grow up in a small town'

James George.

James George.

Photo courtesy/James George

REED CITY – Reed City Area Public Schools recently honored a former graduate and Veteran with the district’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. 

James George, a 1963 Reed City High School graduate, was Salutatorian of his class. During his high school career, he played football, was on the track team, and worked as a carrier for The Grand Rapids Press.

As an Eagle Scout he earned the God and Country Award and received a competitive nomination to the United States Air Force Academy. 

Finishing in the top quarter of his class of 1967, George attended USAF pilot training after graduating; he finished there in the top 10 percent of his class. 

George said he is thankful to have grown up in a small close-knit town.

“I think as I look back on the careers that I've had and on my life from this vantage point, I think I was just fortunate in so many ways,” George said. “I had great grandparents, great neighbors and friends, some really good and caring teachers at Reed City. At the time though, I didn't really appreciate it as much as I could have. It was actually a blessing to grow up in a small town in West Michigan, be it Big Rapids, Reed City, or any of the little areas that surrounded it. I think that was a big factor in my life.

“Boy Scouts was another really big factor in terms of building character," he added. "The great volunteers that we had, in addition to my dad that we had a Scoutmaster that volunteered for so many years. Some of the neighbors and friends who participated in that helped shape a lot of us. Early development in the areas of character integrity, work ethic, respect for others, those that have been influential factors in my life.” 

As a first lieutenant flying in combat, he flew over 200 combat missions and 700 combat hours and was highly decorated, being awarded the Silver Star and six Distinguished Flying Crosses. 

Among his many Air Force accomplishments, he was the commander of an F-16 Fighter Squadron, and he served in the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management.


Now residing in Peachtree, Georgia, George has traveled extensively and said his time at RCAPS was influential in his later life. 

“All the way through from elementary school on up some of my high school teachers were great,” George said. “Lauren Kilmer was the chemistry and physics teacher, and an English teacher by the name of Dorothy Wolfinger, who was somebody you didn't want to cross, she came across as harsh but she taught us a lot.

"Of course, my dad was a teacher there for 40 years, and I learned a lot from him also," he added. "He was a big factor in trying to do what we would call vocational education. He taught classes in architectural drafting and metalworking, repairing small engines, and a whole variety of different things that that I think gave some of the kids ideas about where to go. He helped some of them get jobs and some of the local manufacturing businesses that were there. That was important to me to see his approach and to recognize that a lot of people are smart in different ways.”

Following service in the Air Force, George was chosen as one of the first retired military pilots to fly for Delta Air Lines. He flew over 17 years without an accident or incident, retiring as a Boeing 767 captain based in Los Angeles. 

While George is predominantly retired, he continues to offer investment guidance and financial advice as a Financial Consultant Emeritus.

Upon receiving word that he had been awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater, George said he was honored by the surprise. 

“I was very humbled by being nominated, and then being chosen for that award,” George said. “I'm sure there are a lot of other deserving individuals. It was very meaningful. 

“I came back (to Reed City) regularly while my parents were alive and visited the town and kept up with some of my classmates,” he added. “That's declined a bit over the years as we've all gotten older and, and lost a number of her classmates.”

While serving in Vietnam, George lost three fellow classmates in combat. He said commemorating their lives at the school in some way is a hope of his.

“They were shortly out of out of high school, in their early 20s,” George said.  “I served there, of course, and as you've seen, could very easily have been the fourth. It was a big, big price that Reed City paid. The Vietnam War was not a very popular war, and a lot of people thought it was a mistake. Those of us who were there, doing what we saw as our duty and fighting for our country, saw it completely differently.

“It’s a little chapter in Reed City's history that is not well known,” he added. "I had talked with folks in the city about trying to do something. They have a memorial trail and things like that, but I would like to do something to honor my three classmates that were killed in Vietnam and gave their lives prematurely serving the country. I hope that it could be some form of inspiration to the kids at Reed City, and at least be a memory that doesn't get lost over time.”

George will be a keynote speaker at the class of 2022’s graduation ceremony May 15. He is in the process of planning out his speech, which he hopes will have some inspiration for the students as they move on with the rest of their lives.