Retired professor of speech and debate dies at 81

Photo Courtesy of Patricia Lagerstrom
James Richard Lagerstrom  September 26, 1937- March 3, 2019

James  “Jim” Lagerstrom, known for establishing and leading the cultivation of the Pierce College American Sign Language Interpreter Training Program, which is still in use today, died Sunday, Mar. 3, due to complications with bone cancer. He was 81.

He was a speech and debate professor at Pierce College from 1966 to 1997, and he spent time during that period traveling the world in search of better accommodations for disabled students in Special Services.

Lagerstrom attended Oakland High School and then the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication. He earned a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and he taugher there for two years before receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1961, where he earned a Master of Arts in Philosophy.

His wife of 44 years, Patricia “Pat” Lagerstrom, said that Pierce College has a special place in the hearts of the Lagerstrom family because it is where the couple  met.

Pat was a student trying to attain a teaching degree. Her first husband died in 1970, and Jim was recently divorced and had just began his career as a professor. Pat needed  a speech class to fulfill her transfer requirements, which prompted a meeting between Jim and Pat where there was an instant connection between them.

“He asked me for my phone number, which I thought was very strange because he had access to my files and I’m thinking, ‘oh, there’s something here.’ On the 4th of July that year, he called. I wasn’t home and my daughter took the message. I got home and she said that some Jim Lagerstrom, called while I was gone. And boy, my heart went a flutter,” Pat said.

Jim married Pat in 1974.

Pat said her husband was a selfless and generous man with a can-do attitude that inspired students.

“He felt so fulfilled meeting with the students and being able to help them and guide them on their trail to a degree,” she said.

Jim spent the majority of his teaching career at Pierce College, where he worked with Barbara Anderson, a communications professor.

“It really just inspires me to think that what he did. There is still kind of a ripple effect through the campus, and that makes me as a professor want to make sure that I’m doing whatever I can to make a difference in the lives of students and in the programs that we have on campus,” Anderson said.

After Jim retired from Pierce, he went back to school to become a lay pastor. In 2005, he began serving Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, where he worked for five years ministering people in need.

Solana Beach Care Ministries Coordinator Karen La-Haise worked closely with Jim. She said he was a strong support for people.

“He was able to speak life into their lives using the living word,” La-Haise said. “He had a wonderful sense of his identity in the Lord and, therefore, brought confidence to those who were being ministered by him.”

La-Haise said the Lagerstroms were a “power couple” in the church and that they were inseparable.

Pat thinks this is due to Jim’s influence in the church.

“I always went with him to the different occasions that were going on over there,” she said. “We were very visible in the church. I could feel eyes on us when we walked in on Sundays. It was amazing.”

According to Pat, the pair enjoyed sailing and traveling, which included 51 adventures at sea, landing on all the continents and major cities of the world. Their journey to South Africa is noted as one of Pat’s favorites.

“It was just marvelous,” she said. “The people there were wonderful. They were just nice and smiling and the drives we took on the highways were unforgettable. It was a really wonderful adventure.”

Along with Pat, Jim is survived by sister Joanne, children Doug, Laura, Linda, Lori, Ron and Vikki, and nine grandchildren.

Services were held Saturday, Mar. 9, at 11 a.m. at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2304 Antonio Ave., Camarillo. Pat requested any donations go to Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Contact 805-484-0530.