October 26, 1961 — June 3, 2020
James Stenkamp (Jim) died at age 58 on June 3, 2020. He was born in Pendleton, Oregon.
Jim’s early days were spent in Boise, Moscow, and Pocatello, ID, and he graduated from Capital High School in Boise. His siblings recount to their kids so many “Uncle Jim” stories from these days, that they could fill books! Most of these involved the building of contraptions that are probably illegal now (and perhaps then, too?), such as homemade fireworks, rockets, go-carts, telescopes, etc. These would come together with salvaged materials like paper towel tubes, discarded 2-stroke engines from the landfill, Erector Set parts, and substances from a poorly-labeled chemistry set. Jim harnessed his fearlessness, creativity, and passion for building by turning to a career in architecture, completing a Master’s degree in Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.
Jim started his early career in Minnesota, learning as much as he could at a variety of firms. After moving to Washington State, he established himself as a caring, reliable, and creative project architect. He was encouraged to strike out on his own by a general contractor and friend, and this independence led to an incredibly fulfilling career.
Jim is gone but will not be forgotten as he has left an indelible mark on Walla Walla over the past 25 years, as easily the Valley’s most prolific architect of his time. Jim never lived in Walla Walla, but he visited his clients twice a week during his lengthy career to work mainly with the local non-profits, helping them to better serve the community. His clients included Blue Mountain Action Council, YMCA, YWCA, Whitman College, WWCC, Odd Fellows, Walla Walla Valley Academy, Walla Walla Clinic, Providence St. Mary Medical Center, and the Horizon Group, as well as the Port of Columbia in Dayton and Shalom Ecumenical in the Tri-Cities. He completed multiple projects for all of his long-term clients, forging lasting friendships along the way
Jim was passionate about his work and very proud of the many buildings that he designed as well as how those structures improved the mission of his clients. During a time when architecture was rapidly changing from an art form to a computer aided design (CAD) based discipline, Jim resisted this shift as he felt that it restricted his ability to mold and shape structures to fit his vision and that of his clients. Jim took this a step further by collecting his mechanical, civil, structural and electrical consultants’ design input and personally drafting these components by hand to incorporate them into the final set of construction plans. By doing so he could construct every element of the building in his mind, correcting many possible conflicts on paper before handing off the plans to the construction team. On the more intricate projects Jim would spend countless hours building a scale model of the project to allow the client to better visualize the finished product so that fine tuning could be done. He was a true architect in every sense of the word.
Jim will forever be remembered for his iconic bright floral shirts, shorts (no matter the weather) and infectious grin. He had a brilliant mind, but also a playful kidlike enthusiasm for life. He was a compassionate caring friend to many. He would remember the names of most everyone he met and treated all with equal respect. He could recount intricate details about hikes or climbs that he had taken years prior. He was an avid hiker, trail runner, mountain climber, rock climber, fly fisherman and cross-country skier. He was so tenacious and passionate, struggling at first to run to the mailbox with his asthma, then carefully and methodically working his way to 50 kilometer distances through the mountains that he so enjoyed. He was a loving husband to Susie. The two were an inseparable team, sharing years of outdoor adventures together. For the last 12 years of his career, Susie joined Jim in business, handling landscape design and assisting with design and drafting duties. For her, that was the most wonderful job she ever had, creating a vision for a new building while learning so much from her best friend and love of her life.
Jim is survived by his wife, Susie (Leavenworth, WA); siblings, Cindy (Ft. Collins, CO), Deb (Moscow, ID), and Joe (Boise, ID) and their spouses; his mother, Mardy (Boise, ID); four nieces and one nephew. Jim was preceded in death by his father, Ben.
Due to Covid-19 a celebration of life will be held at a later date. Please consider donations to the Pacific Crest Trail Association in Jim’s honor.