Jim Aaron Sutcliffe


Jim was born Feb. 13, 1922, in Ionia, Michigan, to The Rev. Ewart Lenton Sutcliffe, a Methodist minister, and Erma Jim McCormick Sutcliffe.

He graduated from Hillsdale High School, in 1940, and then attended Cassidy Tech, studying aircraft building and maintenance. In 1941, he went to work at Stinson Aircraft and shortly thereafter met his future wife, Ola Esther Smith. They were married on April 10, 1943. He and Ola had two children: Rita (1947) and Barry (1954).

Jim was drafted into the Army during World War II and was shipped overseas to England and then France in July 1944, where he joined the decimated 9th Infantry. They were engaged in several firefights and ended up in Belgium where they crossed the Meuse River at night and were then captured by the Germans on Labor Day 1944. Jim spent the next eight months in two different prison camps. He was listed as MIA, and his family didn’t know he was alive for six weeks. His positive attitude and spiritual strength helped him survive prison camp life, as he grieved for those who didn’t make it. He grieved for them all his life. He was liberated, in 1945, weighing a fraction of his former weight, and returned to the job he had left at Stinson. When the Stinson plant left Michigan, he chose to start his own construction contracting business. After a few years, he was given the opportunity to work for the Wayne County School System, first as Superintendent of Transportation and then Superintendent of New Construction. He retired from the school system after 20 years. Jim’s wife, Ola, was from Clarkrange, Tennessee, and from his first visit to meet her family, he wanted to move to Tennessee where he had fallen in love with the people at first sight, just has he had fallen in love with Ola. That finally happened, in 1996, when they chose Sparta as their Tennessee home. They chose Sparta First United Methodist Church as their church home, and Jim was active in helping maintain both the church and the parsonage until he was in his 90’s. During his whole 102 years, he rarely missed a Sunday in church. Jim was Mr. Fix It to family, friends, and even strangers.

Countless cars were repaired and kept on the road, repairs made on houses, lawns mowed. The list is too long for space available. He felt that having survived World War II, he had an even greater obligation to make the most of his life and do all the good he could. That was his motto until the end of his life. He would rather give something away to someone who needed it than sell it. He was a superb woodworker, and if he made one of something, he made two or three more to give away. His last woodworking project were mountain dulcimers. His real passion was antique car restoration. Soon after he moved to Sparta, he met the Ernie Cheek, who has since passed away, and from then on they were best friends and did so many car projects together, as well as going to the biggest antique car show in the world, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, every year, which Dad attended annually, until he was 100 years old. At the time of his death, he owned a 1939 Plymouth, just like the first car he had, in which he courted and proposed to Ola, as well as the 1960 Triumph he restored for his daughter, Rita, and a 1938 Buick. He worked in the shop on his cars and on his RC airplanes until near the end of his life.

Jim was predeceased by his wife, Ola; his parents; his sister, Erma Jean Sutcliffe Summer; his son, Barry; and his nephew, Allan Summer.

Survivors include his daughter Rita, his sister’s son, Peter Scott Harris (Kathy); and numerous much beloved nieces and nephews from Ola’s side.

A memorial service will be 11 a.m., June 1, 2024, at Sparta First United Methodist Church, 23 N. Church St., in Sparta. Everyone is invited to a meal after the service.

Memorial donations can be made to Sporting and Educational Center, Petit Goave, Haiti, checks made out to Rita Sutcliffe, 1326 Ridgewood Drive, Sparta, Tennessee 38583. (Jim made four mission trips to Haiti and still supported this boarding home for disadvantaged Haitian boys that gives room, board, tuition and Christian training.) Or, you can make a memorial donation to Sparta First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 277, Sparta, Tennessee 38583.

Oak Lawn Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.