James Walter Niles was born to Nora & Walter Franklin Niles in Shawnee, Oklahoma on October 12, 1932. He graduated from Oklahoma University in 1954 then immediately married his sweetheart Jo Ada Webb and they began to travel on his civilian assignments as a program auditor for the US Army. They soon bought an 8’x31’ mobile home which could be pulled behind their Roadmaster until after their 2nd child was born and they had more permanent assignments as well as larger living quarters. Along the way he added an MBA and more certifications as he accepted a series of assignments in various parts of the US. He was also involved in cutting-edge technology developments and he continued active use of emerging technologies the rest of his life.
From an early age James had been a musician, primarily a pianist, but his and Jo’s first small mobile home had no room for a piano, so he bought an accordion. He looked for ways to use his accordion to serve the Lord and one of the main ways was in outreaches with his pastor as they visited the county jail on a regular basis. He recalls that during those times hardly any cases went to trial because the offenders were confessing their crimes and accepting the consequences instead of fighting the charges. As the new converts turned to Christ James knew they needed to learn more of God and His plan so he began to provide them with copies of “modern” Bible translations, a practice which was controversial with some church leaders, but James wanted to make sure the readers could understand the message.
He had begun to read and collect English translations of the Bible when he was 7 years old, and at the time of his death he was still gathering Bibles, having accumulated one of the world’s largest collections of English versions of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Bible in it’s entirely. He was in the midst of reading Volume One of the Bishops’ Holie Byble from 1568 (which is written with Olde Englyshe spellings and letter formations) but his final illness interrupted his efforts.
During this time last year James was in the midst of a long physical struggle, residing in a series of healthcare facilities due to his injuries from a fall off a stepladder and the resulting surgeries, along with multiple and varied infections and other complications. His wife Cheryl (whom he had married after Jo Ada passed away in 2010) was privileged to be with him throughout the extended ordeal to assist with his care and to cherish his company. None of the medical personnel gave hope for his recovery at that time. He spent most of that period in a “mental fog” and temporarily lost many of his cognitive skills, including the ability to read. Prior to the injuries he had been accustomed to reading 3 newspapers a day (and working all the puzzles except Sudoku) plus doing extensive Bible reading. He had also enrolled in graduate school at Southwestern Assemblies of God University to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. Prior to his accident he had already read the textbook for the intro class in which he had enrolled, but the injuries and escalating complications seriously damaged his mental functioning. However, as he began to respond to therapies and to seek even more rigorous treatment he began to regain some ability to read and concentrate. He had very high expectations of himself and was willing to apply himself to work to overcome weaknesses and difficulties. He was an inspiration and a challenge to those who assisted him.
As James began to regain his mental clarity he re-read the entire New LivingTranslation Chronological Bible, including the commentaries, and then he studied the Israel Bible 365 and all the comments before attempting the Bishops olde Englyshe version he was reading as the time of his departure approached. In the outset he greatly struggled with the reading and with comprehension, but was finally doing VERY well and able to resume the engaging and lively discussions he enjoyed.
He had a history of teaching, both in church and in his career with the US Army. A valued highlight of his career was when General Colin Powell attended one of his sessions and afterwards asked to visit with him more extensively over lunch. James was honored by the visit and was impressed with the general’s interest in the topic and his desire to discuss it further.
At church James was willing to teach almost any age group because he had a rich love for the Word of God and enjoyed finding ways to transmit his knowledge and love of the Bible to anyone. He had committed himself at an early age to serve God in whatever capacity was needed, whether in music, teaching, administration, and/or clerical tasks.
James was a multi-talented man with varied interests that enriched his life and his family. His interests included cooking and baking (which provided occasions for creativity and artistic expression while getting to use his many gadgets and kitchen technologies), and writing and photography in addition to physical fitness. He especially focused on photographing wildlife and plants he and Jo Ada encountered on their hiking and biking forays through beautiful areas of the country as they moved or travelled. One of their favorite hiking adventures was along the Appalachian Trail as they made many memorable discoveries along the paths. He and Jo found ways to maximize the benefits of the natural surroundings to be found wherever they went and some of their favorite pastimes included bicycling in addition to the hiking. They particularly had unforgettable adventures on their tandem bicycle. They were diligent in their activities which also provided them enjoyable avenues for continued physical fitness. James believed taking care of his body was an important act of stewardship and service to God, and his stewardship paid off in sustained health and rare absences throughout his career. Until after he turned 80 he was jogging 3 miles daily, 6 days a week. (He had just cut back from 5 miles per day.)
Then a series of falls leading to broken bones caused him to seek a safer athletic environment so he transitioned to working an established rigorous exercise routine at the YMCA of Palestine. The thorough and regular exercise regimen helped him regain strength and be able to safely resume activities he enjoyed up until shortly before his death. He was grateful for the well-equipped facilities and the devoted staff who assist and support patrons of all ages and needs. He greatly benefitted from the physical gains and from the fellowship he came to appreciate.
After retirement from his civilian position with the Army he had moved from New Jersey to Texas where he was employed with the Pleasant Hills Children’s Home as the bookkeeper until he retired to enjoy and pursue other interests. He was finally able to have a grand piano and large organ in addition to the accordion he still had from his early days. He faithfully participated as a pianist or organist at the churches he and Jo attended and later also worked with church teams to provide musical accompaniment for services at local nursing homes. He never missed a service in his nursing home commitment.
One of his notable interests was flying so he began to take flying lessons shortly before his 80th birthday and that pursuit led to a front page article in the local newspaper after the reporter accompanied him on one of his flights. The strong desire to fly had been awakened when he lived near an airport while working at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, so after retirement, with full involvement and support from Cheryl, he embarked on the long-awaited adventure and spent many hours soaring above East Texas.
On a related note, while he was in Huntsville, he was keenly interested in activities at NASA as well and had many photos documenting early public experiments there. His photographic skills meshed perfectly with his interest in all things scientific as well as artistic, and he usually had a camera nearby to preserve his observations. James was also a prolific writer whose compositions included extensive governmental reports and documents of course, but he also specialized in writing church constitutions as he assisted new or reorganizing congregations in putting their churches in order. However, beyond that somewhat technical writing he wrote biographical sketches to preserve family history. In preparing for his marriage to Cheryl he composed their wedding vows, and throughout their marriage he seldom purchased a card for special occasions, preferring to create personalized cards and mementos to celebrate observances and express his thoughts. Cheryl often kept the “rough drafts” as well as the final product which added special insights into the process; he was a profound thinker with a deep heart whose sentiments were usually expressed in practical actions more than in words, though.
He showed his support for church ministries, especially for children’s programs, as both his first wife Jo and his second wife Cheryl worked with children’s classes and outreaches, He invested needed funds to provide and repair vans & buses for transporting the children and funds for equipment and teaching materials and even sponsored special events such as “Splash Night” where a highlight of that celebration was the outdoor baptism of children who had been attending the Wednesday evening classes. He worked tirelessly to purchase and set up the activities and then to photograph highlights of the event. Until his injuries in 2019 he strongly supported Cheryl’s neighborhood treat extravaganzas on Halloween evenings. In addition to plenty of “good” candy they distributed Bible story books, CDs, games, and evangelistic novelties, along with handcrafted items Cheryl and her mom made each year. They had plenty of lights and music as they greeted their young (and not so young) visitors. Many of the guests were from outside the neighborhood but they came back year after year to see what was new to add to their collections, James was keenly interested in sharing the gospel with young and old.
James’ most ardent concern was the future of the grandchildren and he was pleased to watch them blossom in their development of talents and skills, particularly along the lines of music and Bible study. His first grandchild, Christy Faith Perlman did not reach her 8th birthday but James said she touched more people’s lives than many adults do who live to be 80. He was very proud of her and is now enjoying her embrace again. Before Christy’s passing James and Jo spent many weeks going to Houston to care for her while her parents worked. Those months were sacred for them all and he was happy they were retired and able to take the time to be with her and her family during that journey. Her brother Peter Paul was an early Bible student, excelling in Junior Bible Quiz tournaments, and his exceptional singing ability opened opportunities for worship leadership and earned him scholarship support for college. He has also regularly assisted in a variety of mission projects.
After Jo joined Christy in 2010, God brought James and Cheryl together in another blessed union and James gained an extended family which added much love and joy to his life via 4 more grandchildren. James was blessed and thrilled to see these grandchildren also sharing his interests, including music and physical fitness, sometimes running with him (even though none of them could keep up with him) then later they accompanied him to the Y. In addition they found the go-kart races at Dogwood Junction exhilarating as he passed them all (except for Hannah) on the track, and Johanne was a fierce competitor on the mini golf course, beating him out by 1 point. Even though the grandchildren seemed to delight in spoiling Grandpa, they didn’t mind competing with him and they didn’t hold back as they enthusiastically joined him in games and activities. He enjoyed observing their expanding accomplishments and made trips to Houston and Tyler to encourage Peter in musical performances. Trips to Dallas provided opportunities to see and hear the other grandchildren in musical productions at school, church, and the Meyerson Center. Participating in Alex’s Eagle Award ceremony was particularly significant and brought back memories of his own Eagle Scout ceremony.
Alex recently joined the Army and has already begun a Bible study with some of the men in his company. Johanne also loves to read and study the Bible and to share it with others, especially friends from other cultures and backgrounds. She is a worship leader in her youth group. Hannah and Elijah continue to actively participate in a wide range of church activities including music and missions, so Grandpa James was blessed to see the younger generations leading with work so dear to his heart, and he has faith he’ll see them all in Heaven. James’ oft-stated desire was to be a good role model.
Before the onset of James’ physical crises he shared that he had experienced a special preview of Heaven where he heard music that surpassed any melodies and harmonies he had EVER heard on earth. He had spent his life surrounded by music and musicians and had actively collected sheet music, hymnals and songbooks, records, tapes, etc., but the celestial music transcended anything he had ever heard or produced on earth. He could “sight-read” any musical composition and spent hours on his piano and organ filling the home with his music. Now he’s enjoying the new songs of Heaven even without his hearing aids.
The compassionate care James received at the Palestine Regional Medical Center is appreciated more than words can express. Dr. Sneed’s leadership in seeking all available treatment options exceeded all expectations, and his kindness to James and Cheryl provided comfort in knowing James was in competent and gentle hands.
James is preceded in death by parents and siblings Rosa & Franklin; Granddaughter Christy Faith Perlman; First Wife Jo Ada; Daughter-in-law Karen
He is survived by his wife Cheryl Capehart Niles, Son Tommy, Daughter Sharie & her husband Glenn, Grandson Peter Paul Perlman and “bonus” children Amber Rynerson, Heather Goodall plus bonus grandchildren Alexander & Johanne Goodall & Hannah & Elijah Rynerson. He is also survived by his mother-in-law Rev. Louise Capehart. In addition, he treasured his nieces & nephews as well as beloved church family & neighbors who have been sources of ongoing love and encouragement He was particularly blessed to have been welcomed into the loving congregation of Felders Chapel of Grapeland where he was accepted even as he was no longer able to be actively involved as in past years. He was able to receive much-needed rest and refreshing after years of consistent and faithful service.
A favorite scripture: Isaiah 40:31 …they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.
James’ appreciation for science led to his desire to donate his body for research. He celebrated his life daily and had no desire for a gathering nor service at his passing. James would be honored, though, by memorials to Pleasant Hills Children’s Home or the YMCA in Palestine.
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