The last time I saw Jim Sobieski he was walking down North Main Street toward Public Square. It was a walk he made every day — back and forth from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen and back to St. Stephen’s.
Every day he would devote his time to helping people — especially the homeless. Jim was homeless himself for a brief time but managed to get himself on track and into permanent housing. His devotion to his brethren was unwavering and genuinely sincere.
But on this day about two weeks ago, I saw Jim stop and put his hand on a rail and pause to catch his breath. I walked to him and asked if everything was OK. Jim just looked at me and, as he always did, smiled and said, “Yeah, I’m fine. How are you, Bill?”
That was Jim. Even though he was dealing with something very serious inside him, he would never let anyone know. And he cared about how you were doing.
Jim died Wednesday at home.
We would often talk about the plight of the area’s homeless. Jim knew all of them — those who were truly down on their luck and who deserved help. And he knew the ones who lacked the initiative to help themselves even though they could.
Jim pulled no punches. But he cared. He would reveal locations the homeless were using for shelter because he knew of the dangers. He didn’t want to see anyone die unnecessarily.
In this day of way too many dinners honoring way too many people for doing what, perhaps, they should do for people less fortunate, Jim and his efforts went virtually unnoticed, if not unappreciated. Except for those who knew him and witnessed his actions.
I’m not saying those “award winners” don’t deserve recognition. But Jim deserved accolades too. Jim was a true philanthropist, giving far more than he could afford and doing so without the slightest expectation of reward or honor.
Jim scrubbed the pots at the soup kitchen because he wanted to make sure they were clean before used again. He talked to people, counseled them in his own special way, to try to give them not just the glimmer of hope but to make them feel that somebody truly cared about them.
Stefanie Wolownik, former director at REACH, worked with Jim for years. She saw firsthand how Jim cared about the clients who came to REACH looking for help, conversation or a shower.
“Jim had such compassion for other people,” she said. “And he never complained, and he never wanted any credit for anything, yet he did so much.”
Not many people knew much about Jim, and that was fine with him. He kept his secrets secret. He didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man, and well he should have been.
There will be a memorial service for Jim Sobieski at 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on South Franklin Street. That’s where REACH was housed and where Jim did his good deeds. The service will be held about one month shy of Jim’s 62nd birthday.
It would be fitting if the service was attended by those other than Jim’s contemporaries. It would be nice to see some of those award winners there to honor Jim for all he did. He deserves to be remembered as a true contributor to our society. To be known as a man who sincerely cared about people, no matter where you stood.
One award winner would be there if she were still with us — Anne Marie McCawley, former director at St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen. She knew Jim and respected him for all he did.
Homeless people walk among us every day. There seem to be more and more of them as the economy continues to turn downward. They walk around anonymous and unknown, except to people like Jim.
The irony here is that not many ever knew who Jim Sobieski was .
But that was just fine with him. May he rest in peace.
Times Leader reporter Bill O’Boyle can be reached at 970-7218.