by Dennis Dalman
When Jim Wasdyke was a kid in math class in New Jersey during WWII, he wasn’t paying much attention to math. Instead, he would daydream and draw pictures of German war planes being shot down.
His attraction to drawing and painting never left him. Now, decades later, Wasdyke doesn’t have to contend with any math class. He can paint to his heart’s content whenever he pleases, and he enjoys painting from 9-11:30 a.m. every Wednesday at the Sartell Senior Connection Center in the School District Office Building.
Wasdyke is usually joined by three other artists: Judy Frampton, a Sartell painter; Darlene Ostendorf, a painter from Waite Park; and Jim’s wife, Shirley, who doesn’t paint but joins the others as she works on her intricate cross-stitching projects.
Throughout his long life, Wasdyke’s urges to paint would come and go. He vividly recalls the time he and Shirley lived in an apartment in Baltimore when the walls were starkly blank. Wasdyke went out and bought a print reproduction by Maurice Utrillo, a famous French painter. Then Wasdyke took out his box of oil paints he’d been given by his father and “touched up” the print, making it look more like an oil painting instead of a flat print. It was just what the blank wall had been begging for.
Wasdyke met his wife-to-be when he was in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Kansas at the Olathe Air Base. The two met at Rockers College near the air base, began dating and married in 1979. She was a medical technician at the college. They moved to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, then to Kansas City, where they lived for 25 years, raising their three children. Wasdyke was an associate professor of information technology. Kansas City was the headquarters for the Hallmark Greeting Card Co., and as a result the city was swarming with artists, many of whom gave teaching sessions at the college. Thanks to that artistic ambience, Wasdyke’s yen for art was renewed once again, especially after his grown children had left home.
After Kansas City, the Wasdykes moved to California, then “bounced around” and ended up in Idaho for 10 years, she working in a hospital, he serving as a substitute teacher. Finally, as Wasdyke puts it, the mountains out there were getting “too tall for me.” One of Jim’s sons lives in Minneapolis, so Jim and Shirley decided to check out the Upper Midwest – Wisconsin and Minnesota. They’d driven through St. Cloud once before and liked the area, so they finally settled down 13 years ago in Sartell.
Wasdyke has lived an unusual, exciting life, including working with U.S. Army computer simulations during the Vietnam War. He has flown in a Navy jet and has even ridden in the nuclear submarine the Nautilus.
Now fully retired, Wasdyke leads a pleasant, more sedentary life. And a big part of that life is his oil painting. His subject matter is as rich and varied as his interesting life in so many places: landscapes of various states, an English setter, a cottonwood tree, an old Chevy truck and a dog by a tree, donkeys on a farm, bears, mountain lions, an albatross, flowers, a sailing boat and some copies of classic paintings like Picasso’s “Girl Holding Dove.”
For quite a few years, Wasdyke painted with other seniors at the St. Cloud Whitney Center until the Sartell Senior Connection formed. He and Shirley were two of the very first founding members of the Connection.
“Oil painting is very forgiving,” he said. “If you don’t like what you’ve done, you can take a pallet knife and scrape the paint off before it dries. I get a lot of satisfaction from painting. I like to take my time and then do a lot of detail. I go slow; I take my time.”
Usually, Wasdyke makes a pencil sketch first on the white canvas, then he begins painting. He still cherishes the big paint box his father gave him so many years ago.
His latest painting is of a violin, another example of painting from his own life. Both Jim and Shirley are well known in the Sartell area for their musical talents. They often play, free, for Sartell Senior Connection members, for residents at Country Manor and for the people at Legends, an assisted-living complex in Sartell.
Shirley plays a Q-Chord, an electronic version of the autoharp. Jim plays fiddle. Both took up instruments when they lived in Idaho, at the coaxing of Jim’s brother, a fiddler.
“In Idaho you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a fiddler, there’s so many of them there,” Jim said. “Shirley plays chords, I play the melodies.”
And when they put down their instruments, there’s always their other hobbies to keep them happily occupied – Jim with his painting, Shirley with her cross-stitching.
Anyone is welcome to attend “Visual Wednesdays” at 9 a.m. at the Sartell Senior Connection Center. Even people who have never painted before can bring a box of paints, a canvas or two and have a go at it. Other visual artists are also welcome. No registration is required. Just show up and have a good time.