James D. Davis ’56

James Dilley Davis, age 89, passed away peacefully in the early evening of April 6, 2023 in Harrisonburg, Virginia after a challenging battle with Alzheimer’s. Jim was born on March 22, 1934 in Marlinton, West Virginia to James Layman Davis and Helen Dilley Davis. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Sybil Davis Compton, brother Larry Davis, and brother William Davis.

Jim grew up in the Allegheny Mountains in the prosperous little town of Marlinton in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. He was raised in the family apartment above Davis Motors, his father’s auto garage, farm equipment and automobile dealership. He spent his younger years repairing trucks and delivering John Deere tractors & American Motors cars for his dad to customers across the state – sneaking away to swim in Knapps Creek with his friends whenever he had a free moment. Jim was a voracious reader, a lover of classical music, and a passionate student of history and was always very proud to have won West Virginia’s prestigious Golden Horseshoe Award for excellence in state history in 1948.

After graduating from Marlinton High School in 1952, Jim started his university education at Davidson College, intending to become a Presbyterian minister. As graduation approached, he found himself at a crossroads and left college, volunteering to join the U.S. Army. Jim served for two years in Germany and Lebanon. While posted to Heidelberg, Corporal Davis met and fell in love with a young university student, Gunda Elise Ursula Stassen. Jim returned to the U.S. in 1959 to complete his undergraduate studies in History and English at West Virginia University and authored many letters to Gunda back in Germany. Inspired by their time together and her own spirit of adventure, Gunda decided to join him in America and they married in 1960 in Jim’s hometown of Marlinton. The young couple settled soon after in Morgantown, West Virginia where Gunda worked at the local hospital and Jim continued his education. Jim received his law degree from the WVU College of Law in 1963.

With diploma in hand, Jim took a job with Deere & Co, joining the Industrial Relations Department and the young couple moved to East Moline, Illinois. Jim began his career at the John Deere Plow Works, rising to eventually become Deere’s Global Vice President of Industrial Relations when he retired in 1988. While Jim’s professional responsibilities required that he represent the company, his Mountaineer upbringing gave him a unique ability to connect in a truly personal way with his counterparts in the United Auto Workers, the International Association of Machinists & the Patternmakers Unions and he was always very proud of the lifelong friendships he built with union and management colleagues alike. Post retirement, Jim served as the President of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, the Chairman of the Scott County Republican Party, the Chairman of the USS Iowa recommissioning task force and as a member of the board of the Principal Financial Group funds. During these years, he also partnered with regional businesses and political leaders to bring to life a new Midwest-based airline – AccessAir – and built a successful consulting practice, a true public-private partnership that brought numerous steel and other heavy manufacturing jobs to Iowa.

In his later years, Jim had more time to indulge his ever-present passion for gardening and could often be found on his tractor, planting hostas, and fighting off the deer that came to view his little Eden as a buffet. Throughout his life, he remained extremely active in community life – with State and County government, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, the Bettendorf Presbyterian Church and in organizing and fighting for causes about which he felt strongly – particularly protecting the rights of retirees. His last great battle was a multiyear effort to level the playing field for Iowa with respect to the taxation of retiree pensions. The bill that he had pushed so hard to create was passed by the Iowa legislature and signed into law just a year before his passing.

Jim is survived by his wife Gunda Stassen Davis, his children Matthew Davis, Andrew Davis, and Sybil Johanna Davis, his grandchildren Max Davis, Emma Davis, Jack Davis, Avery Davis, Brinley Davis, Graham Davis, Aubrey Davis, and Alastair Davis-Spence.

Jim’s ashes will be inurned at Mountain View Cemetery in Marlinton, West Virginia at a date to be determined in the Fall of 2023. A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held on August 5, 2023 at the Weerts Funeral Home, 3625 Jersey Ridge Road, Davenport Iowa. Visitation will be from 10am-12pm with the funeral service to follow at 12pm.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that any memorial donations or contributions be made to The Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Bettendorf Presbyterian Church, or the Alzheimer’s Association.