By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
FARMERSVILLE – Pastor Jim Wiley didn’t need to find peace in death, he lived peace and helped others find it for nearly all of his adult life.
Wiley performed most of the weddings, baby dedications, funerals, event invocations, and community prayers in Farmersville for more than four decades and still found time to volunteer as a police chaplain, form a food bank, and serve in a service club and sit on various committees in the community. He was calm but not quiet. Kind but uncompromising. Funny while also fervent. And for a man who gave so much to so many, Wiley’s life began with so little.
Jim A. Wiley was born in a tent on Nov. 1, 1941, in the unincorporated community of Farmersville. He was one of eight children born to Pastor Claude and Ethel Wiley, dust bowl immigrants from Oklahoma. Jim grew up on the streets of Farmersville, swimming in the local creeks, playing baseball, and socializing with the community.
Jim played baseball on Farmersville/Exeter Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion, and was a four-year varsity starter at Exeter Union High School Varsity before playing college ball at College of the Sequoias in Visalia. Wiley’s baseball career continued in the Canadian League, and the U.S. Army.
Baseball may have been Wiley’s youthful passion, but his calling was ministry. He found God after being released from the Army in 1966 and went on to be one of the most influential pastors in Tulare County history.
In 1976, Wiley became Pastor of Calvary Holiness Church in his hometown of Farmersville. In 1977, he co-founded the Farmersville Ministerial Association, created to reach the less fortunate and encourage the fellowship of local pastors, police departments, schools and the city. He was a longtime assistant chaplain at Kaweah Delta Hospital and chaplain for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. Under his direction, Calvary Holiness started Farmersville’s first food bank, something that remained when Pastor Leonel Benavides took over the church and renamed it Spanish Bethel Assembly of God. Wiley went on to be a member of nearly every religious or health-based organization in Farmersville including the Human Relations Board of Farmersville, Advisory Board of Healthy Start Program for Farmersville School District, Farmersville Kiwanis Club, Farmersville Drug Task Force, and on the board of trustees for Outside Creek School, a K-8 school located just south of town.
“He made a difference in this world, especially in Farmersville,” said John Alvarez, a member of Wiley’s church, a Farmersville business owner and school board member. “Pastor Wiley was always willing to help someone in need and there is a lot of need in Farmersville.”
In addition to serving peace officers and helping residents find peace of mind, Wiley was also a peacemaker in a town often torn in two. City hall strife in the 1980s, racial tension in the 1990s, and tumultuous turnover in the school district in the early 2000s were all difficult times for Farmersville and times when Wiley was at his best.
“He was a cornerstone of Farmersville and people recognized that and respected it,” Alvarez said. “When he would show up in a room, things would calm down and people acted more respectful. He knew the city, the schools, the community and the families in town.”
Wiley’s military and religious service earned him the honor of being named Grand Marshall of the Farmersville Memorial Day Parade in 1999. Last fall, the Farmersville City Council declared Sept. 9, 2018 as “Pastor Jim A. Wiley Day” in the City of Farmersville in honor of his life-long commitment to ministry and the local community. The award coincided with his retirement from the church after serving as the senior pastor for Calvary Worship Center for 42 years. A few weeks later, Wiley was honored by the Meek family during the Sept. 24 groundbreaking ceremony for the community’s first pool, the Jim A. Wiley Aquatic Center at Farmersville High School. Alvarez, who is currently serving as president of the Farmersville Unified School District board of trustees, says he wants the aquatic center that bears Wiley’s name to be more than just a place for swimming competitions, but a community center of health and education. He said he wants the pool to teach Farmersville youth how to swim, in case they fall into the many creeks and irrigation ditches running through the city and an extension of the high school’s vocational education to teach underwater welding. Alvarez is already planning a Christmas tree auction and wine tasting event in December to raise money to provide free educational programs at the pool.
“It’s what I think he would have wanted it to be,” Alvarez said. “It’s got his name on it, so I want it be the best it can be.”
But the boundaries of the Farmersville city limits were too small to contain Wiley’s heart for community service. He also volunteered with the Visalia Rescue Mission’s board of directors, Tulare County Freeze Relief Board and was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve on the Tulare County Mental Health Board / Drug & Alcohol Abuse. After outgrowing his church in Farmersville, Wiley decided to relocate the new Calvary Worship Center (formally Calvary Holiness Church) to Visalia where he led the construction of a beautiful new facility on Lovers Lane south of Caldwell Avenue in 2003. As loyal as he was generous, Wiley made sure that Alvarez, an HVAC technician by trade, was the one overseeing the engineering, electrical and construction of his new church.
“He was my mentor and my spiritual guide for the last 20 years,” Alvarez said. “There was no gray with him. He only dealt in right and wrong. I don’t think I ever saw him do anything for his own benefit. He always put others first.”
While Wiley was very busy in the community and the Church, he recognized the most important part of his life, his family. Wiley was married to the love of his life, Teressa Jo Kemp, for 52 years. He leaves behind his children: Claudia Long (Jeff) of Texas, Deborah Volosin (Nick, Jr.) of Visalia, Bo Kemp (Tiffany) of Tulare, and Kara Cripps (Ben) of Visalia. He also leaves behind ten grandchildren: Jansen Long, Bailey Volosin, Christian Long, Sydney Volosin, Kylee Gaines-Turney, Lauryn Gaines, Kennedy Kemp, Ashtyn Cripps, Connor Kemp, and Lexi Cripps. His best times were spent sitting at the family dinner table, swimming in the pool with grandkids hanging all over him, and cheering on his grandkids at their various sporting events. He is also survived by his two brothers Dr. Fred D. Wiley (Alabama) and Paul Wiley (Oklahoma).
Despite his battle with heart and Parkinson’s diseases, Jim maintained his cheerful disposition. Although his diseases kept him bound to his chair, he shared his faith in God and his belief that “God is Good – All the Time”.
Three weeks ago, the family placed Jim under the care of Kaweah Delta Hospice; where they were embraced and assisted by an unbelievable team of nurses and caregivers.
Services were held at the Calvary Worship Center. Burial was in the Visalia Public Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Calvary Worship Center Youth Center Building fund (www.calvarywc.org/youthcenter) or the Kaweah Delta Hospice Foundation (216 S. Johnson, Visalia, CA 93291)
Condolences may be sent to the family at www.evansmillerguinnchapel.com. Services entrusted to Evans Miller Guinn Chapel.