Jim was born the middle of five baby-boomers to Jeanne Schmittroth and Robert Rockwell in Cincinnati, Ohio. His folks called him ‘Sunny Jim’ for his propensity to whistle and sing his way through any day.
With a dad in the FBI, Jim’s family moved frequently. They eventually landed in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where Jim made many life-long friends. Graduating High School in 1968, most of those friends soon found themselves in Viet Nam. Jim volunteered for the Navy and eventually served with a ‘search and rescue’ helicopter squadron that hopped between aircraft carriers along the coast of Viet Nam. His last assignment was a medical leave at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland. He would frequently escape the hospital to go sailing at the Alameda Naval Air Station. Jim was discharged in 1972 after two tours of duty, having collected a few more life-long friends.
Once discharged, Jim grew his hair, used the GI Bill to get a degree in Accounting from Chico State, fixed up an old house in Paradise, drove to Alameda weekly to serve as a leader for the Alameda Sea Scouts, managed to sail several more oceans including surviving several at-sea typhons, and was found by a magical dog named Beardog.
Jim’s perfect job was as service manager for the boat yard at John Berry Yachts in Alameda, and later becoming a yacht broker. He loved moving boats, parking boats, sailing boats, and selling boats.
Things changed when he taught a client from the early tech industry, Joe Booker, and his wife Carolyn, how to sail. For the next 43-years they shared fine wine while slowly cruising up the estuary after a good day on the Bay. Somewhere during that time Jim met Alameda native, Roberta, and after their engagement on a sail boat in the Caribbean, Jim wisely accepted a job offer from Joe in the tech industry.
In 1983, Jim and Beardog married Roberta. They eventually moved onto the same street where Roberta grew up, raising their kids across the street from her folks. In his ‘happy house’, Jim continued his singing, inserting Roberta’s name into any forgotten lyric or Christmas carol.
A natural salesman, Jim continued to work in the tech industry, gathering friends and a lot of shirts and pens with logos on them, until his retirement in 2019.
Additional friendships grew along with his family, including “The Lazy-Z Group” - originating with 7 families who managed to vacation together over 25+ years.
However, Jim was happiest with a margarita in his hand, and his family gathered around the table - especially if this included his grand babies. And, if the kids brought friends, he was all the happier.
Jim was formally diagnosed with incurable cancer in November, 2020. The time that followed, was filled with family gatherings, reminiscing, gentle humor, and Jim’s remarkable optimism - singing until he left us.
Jim was predeceased by his parents, and brother Robert.
He is survived by siblings John (Jacquie), Anne (Stephen), and Tom (Noralee), and a ‘boatload’ of nieces and nephews along with their children - all of whom Uncle Jim cherished; as well as, in-laws Cheri Birkholm (Ron) and Chuck Birkholm.
Missing Jim’s music will be his wife, Roberta, son Nathan, daughter-in-law Chrissy, daughter
Kate, and, grandsons, Jamie Alexander and Keegan Oliver.
Previous published arrangements for a Celebration of Life needed to be canceled due to the potential of too many people attending and Covid concerns. For now, there will be a gathering in the future.
Resident of Alameda
Beloved uncle and friend to many, James Andrew Vais passed away from natural causes at Sunrise Senior Living in San Rafael, California at the age of 96 years old.
Jim grew up in the Ingleside district of San Francisco, the middle son of Andreas D. Vais and Letizia B. Vais of 180 Granada Avenue, with older brother Lawrence and younger brother Andrew. He attended Farragut Elementary School, Aptos Junior High School, and graduated from Lick Wilmerding High School with the Class of 42J.
Upon graduation, Vais joined the US Marine Corps in March 1943. After completing basic training in San Diego, he went on to the Naval Air Tech Training Center in Memphis to receive training as a Machinist’s Mate. He then received further instruction as a Radar Operator, scoring 1st in his class of 90. After a year of preparation, Vais shipped out to the South Pacific, eventually arriving in Guam with Marine Air Group 21 shortly after the island’s liberation. He stayed on Guam through April 1945.
After the war, Vais was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina, and then Miramar, California, where he received further in-flight training as a radar operator flying back seat in a Marine night fighter. Upon completion in 1947, he transferred into the USMC active reserve and started college, first at San Francisco City College, then at UC Berkeley.
However, Jim’s studies at Cal were interrupted when he was called back into active duty in August 1950 and shipped overseas to Korea. Assigned to VMF(N)-542, a night fighter squadron with the US Marines flying in the F7F-3N Tigercat, he saw action throughout the first seven months of the Korean conflict, primarily with pilot Wendell Garton. They flew 50 nighttime reconnaissance and combat air support missions, and performed decisively at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, providing close air support for the 1st Marine Division’s escape. He also participated in a secret photo recon mission over Russia in the height of the conflict. In recognition of his feats, Vais received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Upon his return, Vais completed his BS degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1953. National Automotive Fibres, Inc. promptly hired him, where he was employed seven years, achieving the position of Chief Standards Engineer.
Vais next joined Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical in downtown Oakland, where he enjoyed a 29-year career. At Kaiser, Vais became an expert in global aluminum market forecasting, rising to become Kaiser Aluminum’s Director of Economic and Marketing Research. He also participated as a member of the globally influential Aluminum Association, before retiring from Kaiser in 1989.
A longtime resident of Alameda, Jim was the Vais family historian, a role he relished. Traveling to Europe frequently on Kaiser business, he initiated close relations with his mother Letizia’s extended family residing around Ivrea, Italy, as well as those living in the south of France. He also established connections with his father Andreas’s remaining family in Karia, Greece. Jim’s lifelong attachments with his European aunts, uncles and cousins have ensured that close familial ties will be maintained for future generations.
Vais, aka Uncle Jimmy, was also close with his niece and nephews in the Bay Area. He kept a photographic chronicle of the family groupings year after year, played the demanding uncle role with thoughtful engagement, and delivered crushing holiday handshakes. In later years, he enjoyed weekly twilight golf outings at Alameda Muni with his nephews and Kaiser friends, followed by a well-prepared dinner with wine and tall tales in his Alameda home. He will be long remembered for his version of a culinary compliment…“ you blundered into a winner!”
He is survived by his niece Laura Vais, and nephews Christopher, Kenneth, James, Bryan, and Paul Vais, their wives, and multiple great nieces and great nephews. Uncle Jim’s ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on October 6, 2021, with family in attendance.
Susan Hackett was born in Alhambra, Calif. Her father Harry Simmons volunteered in the United States Navy in World War II, and her mother Mary Simmons was a talented artist. Susan was destined to become a creator having been born from a mother and grandmother of artistic backgrounds
and a brother who is an accomplished photographer.
She met Donald Hackett on New Year’s Eve 1968 and they became fast friends, which later lead to a deep rooted and unshakable love. Eight years later Susan accepted Donald’s proposal by saying, “When?” and they were married on Oct. 22, 1977. Susan always wanted to be a mother and an artist and she ensured to make all of her dreams come true. Art was Susan’s true passion and her life’s calling.
She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in 1971. In April of 1989 her family grew by one with the arrival of a rambunctious and lively baby girl, named Tatiana. Susan was a skilled and very accomplished artist in paint, textiles and photography. Her love for all kinds of art knew no limits. This included her love of music as she sang in the choir at the Christ Episcopal Church in Alameda. She was an active member of The Mother Lode Art Association of Sonora and the Frank Bette Center for the Arts of Alameda.
Susan followed her dreams and was in constant support of others being able to do the same. She thrived when helping people become who they wanted to be and achieve their own dreams. Her love truly knew no bounds.
She is survived by her spouse (Donald Hackett), child (Tatiana Maria Hackett), and grandchildren (Maleena Belle, Lyliana Melody, and Richard King).
The visitation will be held at Greer Family Mortuary, 2694 Blanding Ave. Alameda, CA 94501 on Monday, Sept. 20, from 4 to 7 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church, 1700 Santa Clara Ave. Alameda, CA 94501 at 10 a.m. followed by the burial at Lone Tree Cemetery,
24591 Fairview Ave. Hayward, CA 94524. Guests are encouraged to wear bright colors. Susan loved flowers, but donations to Frank Bette Center for the Arts, Alameda or Mother Load Artist Association of Sonora, would also be appreciated.