We are deeply saddened to share the news that retired staff member Jim Jessee, who served the University for 37 years, passed away November 30. He was 72.
Born November 16, 1948, in Chico, he attended local schools and graduated from Chico High School in 1966. He enrolled at Chico State College, where he graduated in 1970 with his bachelor’s degree in speech and followed it up with a Master of Public Administration in 1974.
Jessee’s career in service and education began as a student, as a volunteer with Community Action Volunteers in Education, which he also ran as its director in the early 1970s. He then served for a year as the rural education program developer for the Northern California Higher Education Council, developing college-level independent study courses as a precursor to satellite and web-based distance education. In 1975, he was hired by the Office of the Provost where he would hold many titles but ultimately retire as the director of academic facilities, publications, and databases in 2008.
Arno Rethans, former senior vice provost of Academic Affairs, worked with Jessee for nearly two decades and describes his contributions as numerous and extensive. Jessee was the principal liaison for Academic Affairs and Facilities Planning, providing all academic and other space planning data needed for minor and major capital projects and campus master planning. This included maintenance of the space and facilities database, which was reputed to be the best maintained in the entire CSU system.
“Jim used his deep knowledge of CSU space and related regulations to lay the foundation for the campus as it presents itself today. … As part of that process, he managed the justification for and planning, constructing, furnishing, and maintaining of nearly every building added to the campus over the last 40 years,” Rethans said. “I will always see him in the buildings on our campus.”
Additionally, Jessee pioneered the planning, implementation, and administration of multiple student and academic database information management systems, driving evidence-based decision-making at all levels within Academic Affairs. He was the overall planner, editor, and publisher for production of the University catalog and class schedule for over 30 years. And he developed the database for automatic production of the catalog and class schedule for printing and web display.
“At a more personal level Jim was both a delight and an occasional challenge to work with. The challenges, however, always arose from his passion for the students, people, University, and city,” Rethans said. “He was a most passionate, authentic, curious, creative, and generous individual. His interests were broad and deep and manifested themselves in his relationships, both personal and professional.”
In 2013, Jessee was inducted into the Emeritus Retired Faculty and Staff Association Hall of Honor.
Kathy Fiscus became friends with Jessee during years working together in the Provost’s Office and stayed connected with a lunch group they put together in retirement. She has many fond memories of him.
“Jim was a great hugger—bear hugs are the best—and he had a great laugh,” she said. “He always had interesting stories to tell about his travels, his genealogy projects and, most recently, his grandchildren. His family meant everything to him, and he did a lot for them.”
In addition to his University career, in 1972, Jessee was a founder and founding board member of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which he would serve as president for most of the next 38 years, working to fulfill the dream of home ownership for many people who might otherwise never have thought it possible.
With his wit and humor, he was a renowned storyteller and wrote and worked to preserve local history as an author, publisher, volunteer, citizen, and rabble-rouser. During the 12 years of his retirement, Jessee continued to study philosophy, literature, history, politics, family, and religion. He also was dedicated to documenting his family’s extensive genealogy, immersed himself in Congregation Beth Israel, continued a lifetime passion of gardening, and enjoyed respites to his cabin in Butte Meadows.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Nelda Faye, son Earl, daughter Emma, four grandchildren, many cousins, countless friends, and his rescue dog Mollie.
Memorial contributions in his name may be made to the Jim Jessee Common Humanity Fund at the North Valley Community Foundation, where they will be used for regional causes near to his heart, including Congregation Beth Israel, CHIP, the Torres Community Shelter, and the Butte Humane Society.
A funeral service will be held via Zoom at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, December 7 (Passcode: 642270) and a shiva minyan and remembrance will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, December 9 (Passcode: 078936). When the pandemic passes, an in-person potluck and celebration is planned for November 2021 at the Chico Grange Hall, with a menu created by Jessee himself. You can request to be notified about the gathering via this form.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, December 7 in his honor.