We are deeply sorry for your loss - the staff at Wheeler Mortuary of Portales, Inc.
Jim Warnica was born to James and Verda (Beasley) Warnica in a Clovis, NM hospital on July 31, 1926, since Portales did not have a hospital. He graduated from Portales High School in 1944, the same school from which his mother graduated in 1913. Four generations of Warnicas have succeeded via a Portales High School education, and the fifth generation is currently enrolled in Portales Schools. Jim passed away on September 15, 2021 at the age of 95 years.
At age 17, Jim enlisted in the US Navy in the summer of 1944, where he served in the Pacific. He participated in the invasion of Okinawa where the biggest danger was the Japanese suicide planes. His communication ship, the Teton, was off the bow of the USS New Mexico when two Japanese kamikaze planes hit the battleship. (He kept a diary that described the attack.) His ship was anchored in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, where he viewed all the dignitaries walking to sign the peace agreement ending WWII. After the peace treaty was signed, he was transferred to the USS Hanna which moved servicemen from the Pacific to the United States; he was discharged in June 1946. For years, he spearheaded the placement of the American flags on the veterans’ graves at the Portales Cemetery.
Jim married Helen Christian on December 22, 1946. He told Helen he did not need his mother’s consent because he was 20 years old and had been in the war. His mother had to sign for him to get married since he was not yet 21! Jim started working for the weekly Portales newspaper in high school and later worked at the Portales Daily News after his marriage in 1946. He poured hot lead to set the type, and later transitioned the company into an offset system. Having never smoked in his life, Jim contracted COPD from years of exposure to lead and ink.
As a teenager in junior high in the late 1930s, Jim would hitchhike close to Roswell to hunt arrowheads and then hope a car came by to take him back to Portales. This endeavor began his life-long journey as an avid collector of arrowheads, meteorites, rattlesnakes, and antique bottles. Active in archaeology, Jim participated in different excavations at the world-famous Blackwater Draw Early Man Site. He has written numerous publications on many archaeological subjects, which resulted in scholars from universities across the United States and from the Smithsonian Institution coming to visit him for his expertise. He was named the outstanding archaeologist of the United States in 1963, and in 2018, Jim received the national Crabtree Award from the Society for Amateur Archaeology. Dr. Vance Haynes (Regents Professor Emeritus, School of Anthropology and Department of Geosciences at the University of AZ) stated, “No one, professional or amateur, was any more competent than Jim in researching the Paleoindian history of the Clovis type site in Blackwater Draw, NM.”
In their 50s, Jim and Helen backpacked across the Gila Wilderness for 6 days and 5 nights coming out of the mountains near Glenwood, NM. They bought a 12-ft rubber raft and floated and fished: White River in Arkansas for trophy trout, Salmon River in Idaho for steelhead trout, Yukon River in Alaska for salmon, and the Missouri River and numerous other rivers in Montana. One rafting trip (with Doyle Usrey) was on the Canadian River from west of Roy, NM into Conchas Lake, a 3-day trip due to the meandering of the river. Later on, Jim and Helen bought a pontoon boat to fish Lake Eufaula in OK. The biggest fish caught was a 55-lb. blue catfish. The biggest one to straighten a 5/stainless steel hook and get away was estimated at over 80 lbs. In later years, they spent time in the lava beds south of Grants, NM where they photographed and mapped Native trails across the lava. Jim and Helen loved to dance and golf with their large group of friends. During those years, he also served as president of the Ram Booster Club and Portales Country Club, where he played golf until age 94. Jim was a member of the American Legion and VFW.
According to Jim Warnica, his greatest achievement was surviving what some people called the Great Depression when people were so terribly poor. Jim called it “hard times.” He remembers seeing “Black Sunday” roll into Portales during the dust bowl years and a metal cup hanging on a pump at the town square for everyone to get a drink.
Jim passed on his passion for fishing, reading, history, weather, being outdoors, and patriotism to his survivors: a son and daughter-in-law, Jimmy and Michelle Warnica of Amarillo, TX; a daughter, Terry Warnica of Portales; six grandchildren, James and Kim Warnica of Houston, TX, Desiree and Dre Sosa, of Wylie, TX, Joshua Warnica, of Amarillo, TX, Bridget and Rick Segovia of Portales, NM, Braden Phillips, of Amarillo, TX and Cayley and Justin Cates of Amarillo, TX; ten great-grandchildren and his nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen, on November 18, 2019.
At his request, no services will be held. Donations can be made to either VFW Post 9515, PO Box 1291, Portales, NM 88130 to purchase American flags to be placed on veterans’ graves at the Portales Cemetery, or to American Legion Cemetery Project, PO Box 275, Portales, NM 88130 to help raise veterans’ stones that have been completely covered by dirt and grass. Cheers and God Bless America!