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A Life James E. Lantz, 1925 — 2014; ‘He Did Anything That Would Make Newport a Better Place’

Jim Lantz in a 1943 photograph when he served in the Army. (Family photograph)

Jim Lantz in a 1943 photograph when he served in the Army. (Family photograph)

Newport — For 40 years whenever Newport called, Jim Lantz was eager to answer.

Lantz came to Newport with his wife, Louise, and their family in 1971, to take charge of M.J. Harrington’s, a jewelry business he bought a year earlier.

Serving others and his community was second nature to Lantz.

“He just loved doing what he could to help his community,” said his son Dave Lantz, who took over the Main Street business. “He’d either be hands on or provide financial support. The whole idea of service to others was dear to his heart.”

Betty Maiola, a former selectboard member, knew Lantz for nearly all of the years his family has lived in Newport.

“He did anything that would make Newport a better place,” Maiola said. “Jim was a wonderful man. A very generous man. There are probably a lot of things he did for people no one knew about.”

Maiola could always count on Lantz’s support for the summer concert series on the Newport Common that she organizes.

“He always gave me money without question. He supported so many projects in town,” she said. “Newport will miss him.”

Ask those who knew him — and it seems just about everyone did — what keeps coming to mind when they think about Lantz are words such as generous, always a gentleman, kind, honest and humble.

“He was always generous to our children,” said his neighbor for more than 20 years, Virginia Irwin. “His children were grown but he allowed ours to swim in their pool. In fact, he insisted upon it.”

Newport Chamber of Commerce president Ella Casey called Lantz “a true gentleman.”

Lantz’s civic service, both as a fundraiser and contributor, in his adopted hometown covered nearly every conceivable facet of a community. He lent his time, talents and resources in support of education, the arts, athletics, historic preservation and a number of social causes.

“He taught every one of us the importance of service to your fellow man,” said Dave, one of six children, all boys. “He was a great role model.”

Lantz was born in Nashua and grew up in Keene. He was drafted into the Army while still in high school and after graduation served in the Panama Canal Zone during World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant. When the war ended, Lantz attended the Pennsylvania Horological Institute under the GI bill to become a trained watchmaker and hand jewelry engraver. He managed jewelry stores in Keene and Brattleboro before buying the business in Newport in 1970 from his sister and brother-in-law, Phyllis and Michael J. Harrington.

The family remained in Brattleboro for a year until Tom Lantz graduated from high school, then moved to Newport in 1971.

“Dad was a giver,” said Tom Lantz, who lives in Newbury, N.H. “He always looked for an opportunity to help people and he never turned his back on anyone. That was a great lesson for all of us.”

“Anytime anyone needed help, you could go to Jim,” said Casey.

Two of Lantz’s more notable efforts on behalf of Newport were the Sugar River Valley Technical Center and the ski jump behind the high school property.

Dave remembers when they were young they built a ski jump in their backyard and proudly showed their father.

“He thought it was too dangerous with the trees so he enrolled us in the ski jump program,” said Dave.

Dave and Tom became quite accomplished at the sport. Dave earned a spot on the U.S. Nordic Combined team and narrowly missed earning a spot on the Olympic teams in 1972 and 1976.

Years later, their father led the effort with others to bring a ski jump from Lake Placid, New York to Newport, where it is still in use today.

Irwin said she first met Lantz at the town’s weekly Revitalization (Revite) Committee meetings, an informal group that chats about town issues, and worked with him on the technical center project.

“He was part of a group that put up the money to buy the land,” Irwin said about the center built in the early 1990s next to the high school.

“He was a strong supporter of vocational high school training programs, for which he, himself, benefited as a youngster,” read his obituary.

Though he seemed to be in the middle of many efforts to improve the community, he didn’t like getting the credit.

“Jim always gave credit to other people,” said Maiola.

“It was never about him,” added Irwin.

State Sen. Bob Odell, who spoke at a memorial service for Lantz, remembered when he was on the Newport Library Arts Center and asked Lantz for advice on how to raise $30,000 for the center. Lantz advised him to find a partner, in this case Vern Violette, then pitched in to help.

With the money raised, Odell said he brought up the idea of a plaque to recognize the committee, but Lantz and other would have none of it.

“Nobody wanted any recognition,” Odell said.

One thing that stood out about Lantz for those who saw him interact with people every day was how he spoke to everyone in the same manner, whether it was former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg or a local residentwho may be down on their luck.

“I never heard Jim say a mean word to anyone,” Maiola said.

It was something that always impressed Casey.

“It didn’t matter whether you had money or were a kid on the street corner, he treated everyone the same,” Casey said.

Described by his sons as a conservative Republican, Lantz was nevertheless eager to meet with Democratic Vice President Al Gore when Gore visited Newport.

“He thought that it was important and he wanted to shake his hand,” said Doug Lantz, of Hanover. “He respected the office, regardless of whether he disagreed with who was in it.”

Lantz was known to love to talk politics and Maiola recalls many times going into the jewelry store for that reason alone.

“He would come out from behind the counter and we would sit and talk politics,” said Maiola. “We did that for years.”

Harrington’s was more than a business for Lantz; it was a place to connect with the community.

“He loved to engage with people,” said Dave, who lives in Sunapee.

Instead of keeping his repair bench in a back room, Lantz stationed it between display cases so he could interact with customers more, Dave said.

“He was a joy to work with and incredibly committed; a fantastic mentor,” he said.

Doug also went into the jewelry business and worked in the store for a time.

“I have great memories working with my dad,” he said. “I learned a lot of great things. He loved God and his country and he brought us up that way.”

Memorial Day this year was difficult, Doug said, remembering when his father lit the cannon on the town common at the observance two years ago. Having suffered a stroke, Lantz had trouble raising his hand for a salute during the playing of Taps.

“He could not reach all the way, so he bent his head down to meet his hand,” said Doug. “I had tears running down my face. It was a perfect expression of how much he loved his country.”

There are two other things that Doug remembers about his father that make him laugh.

“I call them my trump cards when I hear people talk about their dads,” he said. “My dad could ride a bicycle backwards. He would sit on the seat and reach around to the handlebars. He could ride it as long as anyone wanted him to.”

Then there was the back flip ritual every summer when their family pool opened.

“First time in, you had to do a back flip,” said Doug. “He did it every year until he was 80.”

Lantz’s work on a behalf of Newport earned him the Man of Achievement Award from the Newport Chamber of Commerce in 1982, the 2005 John McCrillis Award for support of area skiing and the town report was dedicated to him in 2003.

Irwin perhaps paid the ultimate compliment to Lantz and his wife when she spoke of their children.

“They all turned out to be fine gentlemen and positive people,” she said.

Tom said their father not just talked of serving others, but lived it every day, at home, at work and in the community.

“He was a great example to all of us.”

Newport was fortunate that Lantz bought the Main Street business, said Odell.

“I think it was the luck of the draw that put Jim Lantz in Newport,” he said. “He was so giving, so charitable and so thoughtful.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.