Special-Needs Students Build Chairs With Presidential Appeal

American Woodworker (Feb. 1995)

Here’s an article that was published in American Woodworker Magazine in February, 1995, about Jim’s work with neurologically impaired students. The article, entitled “Special-Needs Students Build Chairs With Presidential Appeal,” discusses the work of the “Roaring Lion Chair Company.” Jim created this company to help the students market Adirondack Chairs, which they built in his shop class. The profits were used to take the kids on trips and purchase company clothing.  Several of the chairs even found their way into the White House!

Tribute to my brother, Jim

photo- Jim


by Robert Quinlan

I wrote the below tribute to my brother, Jim, as I sat in a hotel room in Newburgh, New York, in the hours following his death. I wrote this primarily for the benefit of my friends and acquaintances who didn’t have the good fortune to know him. As Jim’s family members and friends know, he led an extraordinary life. I was very fortunate to have him as a brother for 58 years.

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As some of you know, my dear brother, Jim, has been battling pancreatic cancer for about the last eight months. He fought this devastating illness with quiet courage and resolve, knowing all the while that he was fighting a battle no man could win. Nonetheless, he fought. He clung to life throughout his ordeal- never giving up, never ready to leave the love of his life, Karen, or his children, Laurie and Jimmy, or his four grandchildren- all of whom he cherished so much. Thankfully, Jim’s suffering ended last night at 11:15 p.m. I’d like to offer this very incomplete (and admittedly boastful) testimonial, intended for the benefit of my friends who may not have known my brother.

Jim was much more than a brother to me- he also was my lifelong mentor, a role model and best friend. Although cancer robbed him of his “golden years,” he enjoyed his life to the fullest. As he liked to say, he didn’t merely exist for 62 years- he lived every one of them.

Jim sailed much of the globe during his service in the United States Navy in the 1970’s. After starting his family and career as a teacher, he traveled extensively and explored the Earth, but not from the comforts of a jumbo jet or luxurious cruise ship. He climbed its mountains, bicycled its roads and byways, kayaked its rivers, lakes and oceans; he motorcycled tens of thousands of miles across the North American Continent, even to Alaska. He made friends everywhere he went.

Jim touched many lives and uplifted those who had the good fortune to know him. In his career as a teacher at Vernon High School, he worked with and inspired many less fortunate students with a wide array of disabilities. A master craftsman, Jim taught them how to work with their minds as well as their hands. It was this work that earned him a place in the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a non-profit organization that honors exceptional school teachers. I hope you will take a moment to read this tribute to Jim from his congressman, after he received this honor:


Jim was also an avid outdoorsman and athlete; he hiked mountains and trails throughout the country and followed the very footsteps of explorers Lewis and Clark. He ran the NY City Marathon three times and once bicycled around Ireland with his son, Jimmy.

Among his many interests, Jim had a passion for flight and mastered aviation; he could fly (and repair) anything with wings; he shared this passion with anyone who was interested- including me.

Jim was also a well-read historian. When you walked down a street in N.Y. City with him, you learned something about every building you passed and the location of every speech delivered by George Washington or the route of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession. Indeed, he was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

As many of Jim’s friends knew, he had a keen wit and contagious sense of humor. His closer friends also knew that he was a notorious prankster who enjoyed nothing more than a good practical joke. This “hobby” started in his teenage years, when he began experimenting with light explosives (“cherry bombs”, “M-80’s” and similar implements of small-scale destruction) in the lavatories of Hillside High School. It was rumored (but never proven) that Jim placed these harmless munitions at various strategic locations in the school. He timed them to ignite with lit cigarettes attached to their fuses- causing occasional (but welcome) interruptions in the school day. Although the school and local authorities didn’t seem to appreciate these little disruptions, his “pyrotechnics” proved quite amusing to Jim’s cohorts and classmates. When he reminisced about his “youthful antics” with me, we agreed that, if he pulled this stuff nowadays, he’d surely attract the attention of the FBI, ATF, Department of Homeland Security, State Police, etc. (but they still wouldn’t catch him!). It came as no surprise to me when the US Navy later assigned him to a “destroyer” ship called the “Richmond K. Turner). His elaborate pranks as an adult were too numerous to mention here, but they brought tears of laughter to many- especially me- and never harmed anyone (miraculously).

As a final note in this brief testimonial, I recently learned that Jim once designed and constructed a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. He was assisted in this endeavor by several colleagues (and prison inmates whose labor he managed to enlist). The structure, built about 25 years ago on Pochuck Mountain, New York, has undoubtedly sheltered thousands of “thru hikers” over the years. I visited it recently with my daughter, Kim, my nephew, Dennis, and his wife, Laurie. As we observed, the shelter still stands, strong as ever- testimony to Jim’s workmanship and humility. He told few people about this gift to users of the nation’s oldest and most popular trail- and he never sought credit or praise for building it (to read more about the AT in New Jersey and New York, and the Pochuck Mountain Shelter, visit http://www.cnyhiking.com/ATinNJ-PochuckMountain.htm)

These are only a few examples of my brother’s talents and accomplishments. There were many, many more. If ever there was a “Renaissance Man,” it was my brother Jim. Although he will be sorely missed, he will live in my heart forever.