Life Story Funeral Homes®
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Life Story Funeral Homes®
The exclusive providers of the Life Story Experience

James Robert Higgs

May 5, 2024
Plainwell, MI




The golden voice of legendary radio broadcaster, local historian and community leader Jim Higgs has gone quiet with his passing on Sunday, May 5, 2024. After several days with family by his side, Jim peacefully left this world to join the Lord in Heaven where we know he was greeted by his parents, grandparents, family and friends who had passed before.

James Robert Higgs was born at the Crispe Hospital in Plainwell on October 9, 1944, the only child of Robert Charles and Ruth Mary (Walker) Higgs. He was in the first class at the current Gilkey Elementary School and in high school was involved in the Latin Club, Student Council, band, and junior and senior plays, graduating in 1962.

A childhood love of radio led to a long-standing career spanning seven decades. In August 1962, Jim entered a 12-by-60 trailer (marked with the letters WDMC-AM980) near the Kalamazoo River west of Otsego, for a job interview. His brief audition must have impressed the owners because the next day, Jim was on the air. That stint was brief and the following summer he accepted an announcer position with WHTC-AM/FM in Holland.

In April 1967, Jim made the move to WKMI in Kalamazoo, serving multiple roles including News Director, Program Director, Music Director and on-air personality for the morning drive shift. While there, he helped an up-and-coming band make music history. In the fall of 1974, executives at Elektra-Asylum records were promoting the third album from the Eagles - On the Border - and were pushing a song that just didn't resonate with Jim. But the flip side did, and so he began playing it, sending it up the local charts. With his urging, the executives finally released it as a single and by March 1975, the Eagles landed their first #1 single: "Best of My Love." Later that year, representatives from Elektra-Asylum presented Jim with an autographed copy of the album cover-which still hangs proudly in his office (although the signatures have faded over time). Years later, in September 2014, Jim had the opportunity to not only see the Eagles in concert in Grand Rapids, but he was invited back stage to meet the band where they thanked him for his role in advancing their career.

Following 13 years at WKMI, Jim moved to WNWN - Stereo Country 98, as a DJ and later as Program Director. In 1983, he joined forces with several other local radio industry leaders to buy WAOP AM/FM in Otsego (formerly WDMC, the station where he had started 20 years earlier). The station soon became WQXC (Quixie) and the group purchased other stations, including WBNZ in Benzonia and WSTR in Sturgis.

For 10 years, Jim's voice carried over the airwaves every morning to listeners throughout the Kalamazoo Valley from the lush and lovely, plush and palatial, magical, mystical, musical studio on M-89. While there, he jumped back into the morning drive seat, while also serving as Program Director. It was there that Jim and "The Other Guy" (Mark Wilson) created the infamous cast of characters of the fictious Schnable Creek Hyllton. The two, along with newsman Chuck Marsh, were also notorious for coming up with outlandish stories about blind fricks and prehistoric alligators coming out of the frozen banks of the Kalamazoo River to roam the streets of Plainwell as part of their annual April 1 broadcasts.

By 1993, the corporation which owned Quixie dissolved, and Jim took ownership of the AM station-WAKV AM980, moving it to a studio in the basement of his family home in Plainwell. For 28 years, he broadcast live six days a week from that studio, bringing in familiar voices like his dear friend, Tom Somers, as well as WKZO broadcasters Ron Tonander, Ralph Grant and Lee Dersham. Jim officially retired from the radio business in February 2021 after 59 years on air (but continued to do voice work Jethro Radio).

On November 29, 1963, Jim married Sue Knight of Otsego and the two went on to have two children, Bob (Lynn) Higgs and Dianna Stampfler. Although they divorced in 1993, Jim and Sue remained friends and for more than 30 years the growing family still celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other major milestones together.

On July 3, 1993, Jim married Suzanne Petzold of Millington in front of the fireplace in his family home where his own parents had wed in 1943. Jim was stepdad to Suzanne's children, Allan and Katelyn (whom he co-parented from age three).

Family was the most important thing to Jim and he was the proud grandfather of five - Mike (Kristina) Higgs, Mollie Stampfler, Matt (Emma) Higgs, Marie (Ethan) Rohr and Caleb (Sierra) Stampfler and great grandfather to Mayla, Harper, Easton, Frankie and Emerson. He was so pleased to have two great grandsons to ensure the family name will be carried on for generations to come.

Over the years, Jim has been active in countless local organizations including the Miss Plainwell Pageant and Pipp Foundation Endowment Fund. He served on Plainwell City Council (including six years as Mayor), and was active with the Airport Board, Library Board and Planning Commission (having been re-appointed to this latest board earlier this year).

Jim was an avid genealogist and historian, spending many hours in recent years going through old photographs and documents alongside his granddaughter, Mollie, who promises to keep the family stories alive. He was a co-administrator and top contributor of the "You know you're from Plainwell Mi, if you remember..." Facebook group and also actively posted in the Vanished Kalamazoo and Vanished Otsego groups. He found great joy in sharing his love of his hometown with others, especially his family, and earlier this year had helped his daughter research and edit her forthcoming book about notable figures in Kalamazoo area history.

The family wishes to thank everyone who has reached out or posted about Jim on social media in the past week or so since he fell ill. These messages were shared with him and he left us knowing how much he was loved by all.

A celebration of life is being planned, details will be announced soon.