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James Balk

james  balk
James Francis Balk, age 84 from Waucoma, Iowa, passed peacefully from this world surrounded by his family on September 4, 2021. James was a generous man who always had a friendly smile, helping hands, and an interesting story or joke to tell. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Waucoma with Rev. Nick Radloff celebrating the Mass. Interment will be held at St. Rose Cemetery, rural Waucoma. Friends may greet the family from 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 7, 2021, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Waucoma where there will be a 4:00 p.m. Rosary and a 6:30 p.m. Scripture Service. Visitation continues an hour prior to the Mass at the church on Wednesday. Herman Carl and Madonna Mary (Finnegan) Balk welcomed James into the world on May 12, 1937. He was the oldest boy of nine children—Donna Ann, Barbara, James, Marie, Vern, Charlie, Mark, Delores, and Judy. Together, they shared the values of faith, family, and farming. One of his many chores as a boy was helping thresh grain for local farmers. His job was to sit on a tractor that ran the threshing machine and turn it off when his father, “Pa,” gave him the sign. Along with looking for Pa’s signal, young James also paid attention to a pretty girl at one of the neighbor’s farms who watched the threshing activity with her sister. Waving his hand at the girl with a sweet smile would eventually lead to asking for her hand in marriage. After graduating from Waucoma High School in 1955, it was anchors away for James as he joined the United States Navy and proudly served in the Ceremonial Guard. He participated in prestigious events including services for Navy personnel buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Later, he served in the Navy Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees, who were responsible for building infrastructure at U.S. military locations around the world. Operating construction equipment, especially an International Harvester KB100 dump truck, reminded James of how much he enjoyed machinery. Following an honorable discharge from the Navy in the spring of 1959, James returned home. Remember the sweet girl James waved to when he was a farm boy? They stayed in touch and wrote letters to each other when he was in the Navy and she was a cosmetology teacher in Mason City. He proposed to her in May of 1959. James and his true love—Catherine Lucy Wanderscheid—were married on October 17, 1959, at St. Mary’s of the Visitation in New Hampton, Iowa. James and Catherine began building a life together on a farm north of Jackson Junction that he farmed for 36 years, raising hogs, beef cattle, and dairy cattle, and growing corn, beans, oats, and hay. Over the years he transformed the farm, owned by Jim and Harriet Koehler, from a property with a few buildings to a thriving homeplace with impeccably maintained IH equipment, bright red buildings, and gleaming grain bins. James named his place “The Little Empire Farm,” and it became home for the couple’s three children Roger, Dennis, and Linda. This is where his kids learned to take care of animals, drive tractors, grow crops, and pick rock from fields. By observing their dad, James’ kids learned to have faith—planting in the spring, not knowing what the growing cycle would bring, facing setbacks from bad weather, yet still believing in the bounty to come in the fall. They discovered the value of hard work (did we mention picking a lot of rock?) and of helping others while not expecting anything in return. They learned to savor a rainy morning that meant the family could take a day off and drive to a county fair or neighboring town to explore—or go “bumming,” as he called it. Bumming lead James to a hobby that became a joy—collecting farm toys. He made close friends through collecting and proclaimed on his business card: For the love of a toy, a man is a boy. James built up an extensive collection and for several years his Tru-Scale toys were on display at the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa. He enjoyed attending National Farm Toy Shows and served as a security guard for the annual event. In later years, James sold his toy collection. Much to his surprise and delight, one of his toy tractors (an IH 560 with a cab) purchased for about $5 ended up selling for $6,700. He chuckled to see the early investment pay off. After farming, James worked at Dura Automotive Systems in West Union and then at Lynch Livestock in Waucoma. He retired at age 79 and then looked forward to visits from his children, grandchildren, great-grandkids, relatives, and friends. Over the past three years, he spent his days in prayer with his wife Catherine at Assisted Living in Cresco and he became a fan of live music and bingo. James is survived by his wife of 61 years Catherine Balk of Cresco, Iowa; three children and their spouses: Roger and Ann (Kriener) Balk of Sawyer, North Dakota; Dennis and Susan (Carrington) Balk of Cresco, Iowa; Linda (Balk) and Tony Thomas of Seattle, Washington. James was blessed with seven grandchildren and their spouses or partners: Adam and Dalyce (Klain) Balk; Alex and Christina (Carignan) Balk; Austin Balk; Natalie (Balk) and Reid Ellingson; Elaina (Balk) and Matthew Goodman; Madeline Thomas and Jack Bryden; and Michael Thomas. James was also fortunate to meet all six of his adorable great-grandkids: Eli, Olivia, and Parker Balk; Eleanor, Esmae, and Grant Ellingson. James was preceded in death by his parents Herman and Madonna, siblings Donna Ann Baker, Barbara Newton, Vern Balk, Mark Balk, and brother-in-law Bill Newton. We pray our beloved James F. Balk will rest in peace at St. Rose Cemetery, next to the farm he grew up on, with all his happy memories restored.

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  1. We send our sympathy to Cathy and family over the loss of Jimmy! He was my older brother and I do remember he loved to play tricks. He would snatch my fixed plate of food and replace it with an empty plate. He loved life and farm toys. He leaves a wonderful family behind which is a tribute to him!


  3. Sending heartfelt condolences to your family during this difficult time. It’s clear that James lived an extraordinary life and will be dearly missed.

  4. I considered Jim as one of my best friends but only found out about his passing In the November issue of Toy Farmer magazine. We had visited several times by phone over the years and always met at the toy show in Dyersville.. I’m sorry that I didn’t hear from Cathy or the family when Jim passed over 2 months ago. May he Rest In Peace. Wally Pfeifer

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