James Marion Snelling was born August 29, 1930, to John William and Johnnie Mae Peeples Snelling in Paducah, KY. He had three sisters and two brothers. He loved to share stories of his father teaching him about hunting, fishing, gardening, safety, respect, and the values of honesty, fun, and hard work.
When Jim was twelve, his father was killed in a construction accident while helping build the Ohio River floodwalls that now protect Paducah from flooding. After helping his mother for several years, he moved to Michigan to find work. Two of his aunts, Laura and Nellie Snelling, had moved to Michigan to study nursing at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. They'd married and stayed in the area, so that is how Jim came to live with his Aunt Laura and Uncle Lyle Ashton.
While living with them, he attended a church social at the Urbandale SDA Church, where he noticed a lovely young woman named JoAnne. He offered her a perfectly toasted marshmallow and struck up a conversation. That exchange was the beginning of a lifetime of sharing special times together as Mr. & Mrs. Snelling. Jim became an active member of the Urbandale SDA Church and spent the rest of his life encouraging everyone he met to become friends with Jesus, especially children.
Jim spent thirty years working as a backhoe operator for Smith-Hammond Piping Company in Battle Creek, MI. He and JoAnne had three children, Susan, Sandy and Mike, and seven grandchildren.
He was an avid beekeeper and this hobby grew into a small business. He built frames and “supers” himself and eventually constructed a honey house to process and store honey. The family often held "honey parties" to fill jars, package comb honey, and glue on labels. Much of his children's Christian education was paid for with funds from "honey money."
Jim sang bass in several quartets, and he and his family sang together all the time. When the kids were old enough to learn to sing harmony, they sang together as a family. He played electric steel guitar and at age 55 learned to read music so he could play classical guitar.
Together with his wife, JoAnne, they also ministered for many years as bus drivers and tour guides to historical Seventh-day Adventist sites in Battle Creek, Michigan. Jim was often scheduled with groups from around the world to show them important places and tell the stories of the early Adventist pioneers.
Jim loved nature. He enjoyed walking through the woods, hunting, fishing, camping, and bird watching. He built a variety of bird feeders to attract different kinds of birds. He also installed an observation beehive in their kitchen (drilling a tube through the wall allowing the bees to come and go) so he and his children could watch them more closely. He enjoyed learning more about nature: rocks, stars, flowers, birds, and animals, and collected a number of reference books to help him study them. He began bringing some of the "creepy crawlies" to show the children at church. His simple explanations were captivating and "Uncle Jim" became a favorite addition to many programs.
Word quickly spread and soon “Uncle Jim” was trapping birds, turtles, frogs, and other creatures to take to story hours, Sabbath schools, classrooms, camp meetings, summer camps, and Vacation Bible Schools all over Michigan. His freezer often contained small mammals, birds, and insects, while the bathtub frequently housed fish or turtles. An amazing variety of species were live-trapped and taken to school or church in brown paper sacks, pillowcases, buckets, or cages before being released – all for the purpose of teaching God’s second book, “nature,” to children.
Then one day, Miss Brenda, who had been a friend of the family since she was a baby, called and invited Jim to host nature programs for Kids' Time, a television program that aired on Three Angels Broadcasting Network. He accepted and was “Uncle Jim” no more. He instantly became "Ranger Jim" and was loved by millions of children all over the world. He hosted more than 200 nature programs over nine years, traveling to Georgia, Montana, Florida, and the Bahamas. He started this new career at age 70 with no previous television experience.
Ranger Jim battled cancer courageously for the last few years of his life, all the while continuing to host nature programs on Kids Time. He shared his battle with Miss Brenda, asking her to start praying for his replacement. He was a very private man and never talked about having cancer, nor did he complain or ask, “Why me?”
He often witnessed to the medical personnel he encountered, telling them about how good God had been to him and even gave away some of his extensive rock collection to nurses, doctors, and caregivers.
Jim and JoAnne had a winter home in Florida and on his last day of fishing on Lake Okeechobee he caught 18 bass. Two days later they returned home to Michigan.
He wasn’t home long before he was hospitalized and had been there for two weeks when Miss Brenda, her sisters, and mother came to visit him. They sang songs together, talked about all the good times recording programs for Nature Time, and he was even able to say “good-bye” to his good friend, Miss Brenda’s dad, Pastor Jim Micheff. They had been close friends ever since they were baptized into the
Urbandale Seventh-day Adventist church so many years before.
Before leaving his hospital room, Ranger Jim said to Miss Brenda, “Thank you for allowing me to be Ranger Jim to all the kids around the world. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m truly grateful. It’s such a good feeling to know that long after I am gone, I’ll still be witnessing for Jesus through all the Kids Time programs that will continue to air.” His last words to her were, “I’ll see you in the resurrection morning.”
The next day he chose to end the chemotherapy treatment and went home to rest quietly with family. His hospital bed was placed in front of a sliding glass door so he could continue to enjoy all the birds coming to his feeders, as well as watch the wild turkeys and deer.
His last Sabbath was spent with grandchildren, friends, and family, sharing precious memories and singing favorite songs. He sang along with several old hymns and commented frequently on the many blessings God had provided throughout his life.
Jim breathed his last on Thursday morning, May 19, 2011, with family gathered at his bedside. He is greatly missed as a husband, father, brother, grandpa, uncle, friend, and also as “Ranger Jim,” to all the children around the world.