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Leading by Doing
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by Dan Soeder | 2008

My brother Jim died in mid-October from a brain tumor. It progressed frighteningly fast; slightly more than 6 months from the onset of symptoms until he was gone. We barely had time to say good-bye. He was just 52.

My brother Jim died in mid-October from a brain tumor. It progressed frighteningly fast; slightly more than 6 months from the onset of symptoms until he was gone. We barely had time to say good-bye. He was just 52.

Jim was more active in the Sierra Club than I am, and on a more grassroots level. He was a leader in the Cleveland ICO (Inner City Outings) program, and he and I scouted many trails and parks during my visits home to Ohio that he later used for ICO excursions. The kids loved him (I went along on one ICO hike, and that was enough for me...I don’t know where he got the patience, but he was terrific with kids). He also participated on a number of national-level service trips for Sierra Club, working on projects like trail repair in Idaho, exotic plant removal in Hawaii, and the dismantling of an old hunting lodge in an Alaska wilderness area.

Jim was one of my favorite hiking companions. He was a minimalist, bringing along the least amount of gear needed for survival. There were never any frills or luxuries in his pack—he didn’t see any need to carry stuff he wasn’t going to use. Jim was proud of his thriftiness, and got most of his gear at secondhand stores, yard sales, and discount shops. This didn’t make him a poor outdoorsman; in fact, just the opposite. He relied on instinct, intelligence, and reason to avoid trouble, not his gear. He often expressed the opinion that buying fancy, expensive outdoor gear does not necessarily impart any wilderness wisdom to the buyer. People have been known to get overly-reliant on their GPS, satellite phones, waterproof boots and quick-dry technical clothing, and walk into blizzards, forgetting common sense.

Jim worked for the school board in one of the districts in the Cleveland suburbs. He got the whole summer off, and spent it traveling and hiking, a lot of the time solo. He made it to all 50 states, including four separate driving trips to Alaska. He had a few misadventures, but nothing serious. He was careful to map trails in advance, and carry a compass, a light, emergency rations, a water purifier, and other necessities. I work for the U.S. Geological Survey, and he would often tap me for topographic quadrangle maps to plot his next adventure.

The last big hike he and I did together was Mount Washington in New Hampshire a few years ago. We stayed at the AMC lodge in Pinkham Notch, and went to the peak and back on a dayhike. It was fun, even though it took a little longer than expected to get down, and we nearly missed dinner. Several people on the summit reacted with amazement that we had actually hiked up. One well-meaning lady gave us brochures for both the auto road and the cog railroad, and told us there wasn’t really any need to walk up. Jim and I just looked at each other, and tried not to laugh out loud. We put on our backpacks the next day and hiked into the Great Gulf wilderness below the mountain for a few additional days.

My brother was a good guy. He laughed easily, and loved the Three Stooges, Benny Hill, and Mel Brooks movies. He was late for the family Thanksgiving dinner every year because he volunteered down at the Salvation Army, serving up turkey dinners to those who had nothing. One of his passions was the Adopt-A-Family program, where he would take a needy family’s Christmas list and try to fill it. These lists were heart-rending. Instead of toys or video games, the kids would often ask for necessities like gloves, boots, or warm coats. I guess when you are that poor, your priorities are different. If anyone wants to remember my brother, the family asks that you contribute to the Salvation Army Adopt-A-Family program in his name.

Jim was a member of the Sierra Club for many years before I joined, and he convinced me that the environment and the outdoors that we both loved needed protecting. I joined up eight years ago and got active in the national outings program, as well as chapter outings in both DE and MD, and I think he was proud of that. I suppose if one of Jim Soeder’s many legacies to the Sierra Club includes leaving his older brother Dan behind as an active member, he had a modicum of success.

See you outside.  


Daniel J. Soeder is the MD Chapter outings chair.

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