Jim was born in Enid, Oklahoma, on May 18, 1941, the son of Herman Sylvester Kolb and Katherine Hayes. He grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and spent some of his summers in Mexico living with a family and learning Spanish. He attended Bishop McGuiness Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, leaving after his junior year to enter the University of Notre Dame.
Upon graduating from Notre Dame in 1962, Jim entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a master's degree in American social history. In the fall of 1963 he took a leave of absence to join the Peace Corps and following training at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque went to Colombia as a member of the Colombia XIII Peace Corps group. In Colombia the group was responsible for launching an instructional television project which beamed lessons to remote villages on the underutilized national TV network. Upon returning to the United States in 1965, he returned to the University of Wisconsin and completed his degree in 1966.
Moving to Washington, DC, he joined the Peace Corps staff and served as the desk officer for Peru and Chile. Selected for the mid-level management program at Harvard, he completed a Master's in Public Administration at what was then Harvard's Littauer Center in 1967. Drafted into the Army, he volunteered for officer's training and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1968. He served in Korea from 1969 – 1970, and after resigning his commission briefly returned to the Peace Corps staff before joining the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW, now Health and Human Services or HHS).
His future wife, Sandra Rae Clark, was also on the ASPE staff, and they were married on September 7, 1972, at St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish in Washington, DC. Immediately following the wedding, the couple moved to Cologne, Germany, where Jim worked for WEMA, a German consulting firm. In 1974 they returned to Washington, and Jim spent the rest of his career at HEW/HHS working in a variety of management positions at the Administration on Aging; the Administration for Native Americans; the Child Health Insurance Program (part of Medicaid); and Head Start. He retired from Federal service in 2002.
Jim and Sandy have two children, Nathaniel Thomas (born in 1978) and Ameli Sophia (born in 1982). On March 31, 2018 Ameli gave birth to their first grandchild, Milo Robert Jank. Ryan Jank and Ameli were married at Jim's bedside in the ICU, so Jim could fulfill his promise to be at her wedding.
His career reflected Jim's strong belief in public service, and in retirement he continued to support causes about which he cared deeply. He served as the treasurer of the Friends of Colombia, a non-profit founded by returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Colombia to support projects (mostly educational) in the country. He also volunteered for Bikes for the World, which sends used bicycles to developing countries, and the Glover Park Village, an organization dedicated to helping seniors age in place.
Jim loved music – all kinds – rock, folk, and especially jazz and classical. He and Sandy were inveterate opera-goers as well. An avid reader, his preference was for non-fiction, especially weighty tomes of science and history. Having lived in Latin America, the Far East, and Europe, he appreciated and enjoyed encountering other cultures. Retirement gave Sandy and Jim the opportunity to pursue their mutual love of travel, an opportunity they seized with gusto, traveling extensively throughout the US and abroad.
Jim died of advanced cancer on May 11, 2018, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC. He is survived by his wife and children; son-in-law and grandson; his two sisters, Dorothy Posel and Marilyn Shotwell; brother-in-law Dan Shotwell; brother-in-law Peter Clark and his wife, Carol; several nieces and nephews and numerous cousins.
A memorial service will be held at St. Alban's Episcopal Church (3001 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016) at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 2, 2018.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be sent to The Friends of Colombia (PO Box15292, Chevy Chase, MD 20825; http://www.friendsofcolombia.org/ ), The Southern Poverty Law Center (400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104; https://www.splcenter.org/) or to the outreach programs of St. Alban's Episcopal Church (3001 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016).