Alumni and others whose lives were touched share their memories and thoughts.
Ed Zygmonski, AS71
My recollections are diverse and numerous as Jim became not only a mentor but also a friend. And when you were a friend with Jim, you were a friend for life.
My most memorable moment with Jim Soles took place in May 1970, directly following the shootings of four students at Kent State University in Ohio. One must remember how turbulent the times were during the 1960s for many college campuses because of the war in Vietnam, and the University of Delaware was no different. Albeit not on a national scale, there still were protests against the war on campus. After what happened at Kent State there was a feeling that something ought to be done here. I along with other students decided that a rally and a march would be what we could do on campus to honor the slain students. The rally was to be behind the Student Center on the open plot of land known by students as the "beach." From there, we would march down Academy Street to Main Streetdown Main Street to The Mall [now The Green] culminating in walking down The Mall and ending with speeches at Memorial Hall.
One has to realize that no one was really sure how the rally, protest march and speeches were going to go that night. Many students were upset and were looking for reasons to possibly cause damage on campus and maybe even throughout the town of Newark. Many just wanted to be a part of something larger just to honor the slain students. Many were simply curious. No matter what, we were shocked when nearly 1,000 students showed up for the rally and march. By the time the protesters arrived at the steps of Memorial Hall, things were very tense. No one was really sure how this evening would wind up. Would students go on a rampage? Would the campus or even Newark police be called in to suppress any violent reactions? It was all very up in the air.
A radical group insisted on speaking first, and we were concerned that they might urge the crowd to act up or in some way vent their rage. Dr. Soles asked to speak first instead and we agreed. To be honest, I cannot remember his exact words that evening, but what I do remember is the feeling I had and still have to this day about that evening. Jim spoke with such eloquence and empathy. He calmed a potentially aggressive student body protest and made it into something so much more meaningful. He talked about life and how precious it was. He empathized with the students but not in a negative way. He was reassuring and eloquent in all of his Southern charm. He made us feel that we could get through this together and that no harm would come our way. At that moment, I thought of him as a reassuring dad who says, "Don’t worry, it’s going to be OK."
Afterward, many students sighed a huge sigh of relief and simply walked back to their dorm rooms. No violent protest took place. No damages were incurred. Jim had quieted the large crowd in a way that felt just right.
In later years, I talked to Jim about that night and he told me that Dr. Trabant, then president of the University, called Jim and told him that he felt that evening was Jim’s finest hour at the University. He and I both agreed.