Jim Hastings showed how community service works
By R.E. Graswich
Jim Hastings didn’t need to start a magazine. He was almost 70 with a lifetime of accomplishments. But in 1996, having lost a longshot campaign for mayor, Hastings and his wife Cecily embarked on a new career as publishers.
They had no experience in journalism, communications or publishing. Technology was poised to crush the cozy universe of printed news. The Hastings looked ahead and saw only blue skies.
Jim, who died in January at age 94, days after falling on an East Sacramento sidewalk, spent two decades helping Inside Publications defy economic gravity. The magazine thrived. It became a local institution, arriving at 83,000 homes each month, free to everyone, delivered by U.S mail, supported by community advertisers. It’s the magazine you’re reading now.
The rapid transition from mayoral candidate to novice publisher proved Jim Hastings wasn’t intimidated by shifting terrain.
As a teenager, he spent nights in Florida ballrooms working as a professional dancer. He brought adolescent companionship to women whose husbands and boyfriends were busy fighting World War II. He eventually left the dance floor and found his own battlefields in Korea as a soldier in the U.S. Marine Corps.
For decades, he moved often and never had time to sink roots. This explains why Jim believed his greatest achievements came after 1989, when he arrived in Sacramento and settled near McKinley Park.
The East Sac community, its trees, parks, narrow streets, provincial shops, pleasant neighbors and visitors, formed the hometown he always imagined and never experienced.
Jim embraced his new community. He launched himself into the minutiae of neighborhood drama. He led campaigns to slow traffic on G and H streets. He organized residents to stop an oversized office building from replacing a church on Alhambra Boulevard. With Cecily, he founded a neighborhood association for McKinley Park and started the East Sacramento Chamber of Commerce.
“When the city was ready to tear down the Greek Annunciation Church and approve a six-story office building, Jim created a campaign called ‘No More Sunsets Over McKinley Park,’” Cecily says. “To make his point visually to the City Council, he projected the huge building on a street photograph of the church. The council withdrew the zoning approval for the building. A picture worth a thousand words.”
James Joseph Hastings was born Oct. 18, 1928, in Indianapolis. His mother was young and unmarried. Family members considered her unprepared to raise a child. Young Jim was placed with his elderly grandfather.
Jim was an adventurous child with an unadorned, effervescent personality that would reward and characterize him for most of the next century. He displayed independence at age 16 when he left his grandfather’s home and moved to Florida to finish high school. He was on his own.
Like other men born slightly too late to serve in World War II, Jim grew up amid tire and sugar rations and war bonds and victory gardens. He was imbued with a wartime patriotic spirit. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, in time for the Korean War.
In one sense, the Marines provided the home Jim never left. After active duty, he remained in the reserves corps for 10 years and reached the rank of captain. Two days before his death, Jim was delighted when a family friend brought an accordion to the old soldier’s bedside and played the Marine Corps anthem.
Beyond patriotism and a sense of service and sacrifice, the Marine Corps gave Jim a tangible gift, the GI Bill. He enrolled at University of Miami, tuition paid by the government, and studied accounting.
There were complications. Jim fell in love, married and became a young father in college. He was accustomed to difficulties and fending for himself, but now he had a family to support.
Providing support meant work. Blessed with charm and enthusiasm, Jim discovered he could make a living in sales. He was friendly, earnest and persuasive. People liked him. He rang doorbells and peddled premium pots and pans door to door and delivered daily newspapers.
After college, poised for a career in accounting, Jim took an employment test presented by one of the country’s most prestigious corporations, IBM. The test was prescient. It indicated he should forget accountancy and concentrate on sales.
Jim was hired by IBM and instructed to sell a remarkable machine, the IBM Selectric typewriter, to hotel managers in Miami Beach. Soon secretaries in many Miami Beach hotels were tapping out invoices and letters on IBM Selectric typewriters.
IBM was a gigantic company with global reach, but corporate executives in those days didn’t fail to notice some unusual success in the Miami Beach hotel sector. Jim was rewarded with a series of promotions that would continue for 30 years. He retired as IBM’s vice president of sales for the Far East. He was 55, financially secure, looking for something new, ready for a second act.
His IBM career carried him to many cities, always on the move, but rendered Jim a nomad. He was comfortable anywhere, yet he belonged nowhere. He settled in San Francisco, where a former IBM colleague sold high-end office furniture and needed help. Jim pitched in as vice president.
Around this time, he met Cecily, a Michigan woman transplanted in California, also selling office furniture. She was significantly younger, but sometimes love overlooks age. With his new wife, Jim left the furniture company and joined a firm that distributed fax and copier equipment. The work brought the Hastings to Sacramento. The town suited them. They were here to stay.
A corporate ownership change prompted Jim to declare his second retirement. A year later, he was a father for the sixth time, no longer young at 62 but committed to the joys and duties of parenthood.
This was when Jim’s third and final act blossomed in East Sac. He had a talent for fixing things, any gizmo that required nuts and bolts and flywheels and motor oil and wrenches and screwdrivers and hammers. He worked as a handyman and restricted his practice almost exclusively to elderly neighbors.
He loved to solve problems conjured in old houses by old people. His fees were modest and frequently forgotten.
Handyman work evolved into fixing larger community problems. He spoke to people who felt helpless and ignored when they complained to city officials about speeding cars on H street. Jim was many things, but never helpless and ignored.
With Cecily’s help, he was soon organizing neighbors, striding into City Hall and dropping problems into the laps of City Council members. They learned to listen to the former Marine.
Suddenly a community activist, Jim ran for mayor against Joe Serna, an incumbent richly entrenched in local politics. The upstart campaign was a suicide mission for Jim, but he savored every moment. He received 25% of the vote, a defeat he boasted about with pride. Jim loved to exceed expectations.
When Inside Sacramento started, the magazine was a neighborhood newsletter. People enjoyed the monthly mix of strictly local stories. The publication grew rapidly.
Cecily handled editorial matters, sales and community relations. Jim ran the business operations, responsible for contracts and billing, collections, printing and delivery. A commitment to neighborhood readers and small advertisers allowed the magazine to bloom while legacy print publications around it collapsed.
Five years ago, as he approached his 90th year, Jim began to relinquish duties to a young man under his tutelage, Daniel Nardinelli. In 2019, Jim was in a car accident and suffered a concussion. The injury produced dementia. His memory began to fade. He remembered faces but not names, and names without faces.
His façade remained undiminished, good old Jim, all laughter and happy greetings. After a recent community meeting, he told Cecily, “I sure talked to a lot of people. They all seemed to know me, but I can’t tell you who any of them are.”
Privately, the slow decline tormented a man who lived on wit and charm. Shortly after Christmas, Jim told Cecily he was nearing the end of his life. They visited a doctor who explained options for catastrophic and hospice care. Jim wasn’t interested in anything special. He was ready for whatever came next.
Even at the end, he was sturdy and robust. This was still a man who cycled 72 miles around Lake Tahoe at age 82. He was walking by himself a mile to a Pilates class Jan. 12 when he stumbled on the sidewalk, fell and broke his hip.
Jim Hastings thanked several people who witnessed his accident and rushed to his aid. He said two women who helped him were particularly attractive. He didn’t catch their names. As promised, he refused medical treatment. He died five days later at home with his family.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com.