Steve Charles—When Jim Czarniecki ’71 was editor of The Wabash yearbook his senior year, he did away with many of the cliches of the genre—what he called the "old gray coat-and-tie-and-stand-in-a line" photos.
He hoped to "capture something that is actually YOU," he told his classmates. "If not your face, at least something you can relate to, because that’s what Wabash is—you."
Not content with having his classmates’ images all uniform and squeezed into a box like the fraternity composites we use today, Jim used senior photos that are fascinating environmental shots that tell you something different about each person. They must be fun for members of the Class of 71 to look at today (and to try to explain!).
The living unit photos are informal group shots atop fire engines, bridges, trees, boxcars—photos that, no doubt, have their own stories.
As yearbook advisor, I often hold up Jim’s book as an example of what an editor with a vision can do.
And Jim’s desire to capture the essence of others’ experience, to envision what they could be and how the arts could nurture that, grew even stronger. The same man whose vision shaped a college yearbook went on to shape the arts in Minneapolis (as director of the Museum of American Art, among other venues) and change for the better the lives of high school students battling addictions in that city (as the co-founder of Sobriety High School).
That vision dimmed July 9 when Jim died at home after a long battle with cancer.
Jim’s courage, wisdom, and vision during that battle was equally inspiring, and with its own vision. I began to read about it in a journal that he kept at the Caring Bridge website. Some of those entries carry a wisdom and unforgettable images I hope I will always carry with me. Envelopes of light that will come in handy in a dark time.
After his death, scores of Jim’s friends and those who had met him through the journal posted their condolences to his family and their own words of praise for the man. "God’s gentleman," one reader called Jim. Can there be higher praise for a Wabash man?
They’re having a celebration of Jim’s life this Saturday in Minneapolis from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It should be beautiful. You can read Jim’s obituary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Of course, we’ll have a remembrance in Wabash Magazine.
Here’s a photo of the back page of the Wabash yearbook Jim edited. It was dedicated to his friend, Pat Brannigan ’71, who had died the previous summer. I think Jim’s words and his decision to so dedicate the book reveal the man he was becoming. God’s gentleman.