Cover photo for James Malapanes's Obituary
1939 James 2022

James Malapanes

September 25, 1939 — February 3, 2022

Jim Malapanes went to be with his Lord on February 3, 2022, following a long battle with heart disease.  He was born Sept 25, 1939, as one of 10 children, to Nicholas Malapanes and Agnes (Ogrodwoski) Malapanes in Chicago, IL.  He moved with his family to Phoenix, AZ in 1945 on a train filled with service members headed to war.

When he was 18, he joined the US Navy and was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Des Moines, CA-134, as an Electricians Mate.  The ship was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, and home-ported in Villefranche, France.  He spent 3 years visiting almost every port in the Med, including Gibraltar, Valencia, Rhodes, Marseilles and Beirut.  He was awarded an Expeditionary Medal for action in Lebanon in July 1958.

Upon returning to the states, he became an apprentice bricklayer and tile-setter, ultimately becoming a journey level union member and a skilled artist with tile.  He was a police officer for the City of Phoenix for most of the 1960’s.

Jim earned a commercial helicopter pilot license and went to Alaska in 1972 in search of a pilot job.  Unfortunately for Jim, the Vietnam war was ending and every military pilot was also applying for jobs.  So he went back to his roots as a bricklayer and tile-setter, eventually becoming the Business Agent for Local 1 of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Union for the State of Alaska.

In 1980 he started J.N. Malapanes Construction Company in Wasilla, AK.  He was a founder of the Alaska Craftsman Home program, which developed and promoted techniques for super-insulation of homes to conserve heat.  Jim was an instructor at Wasilla High School’s Construction Trades program.   He was Director of the Alaska State Homebuilders Association from 1989 to 1990 and made many trips to Washington DC to lobby on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders.

In Alaska, Jim lived in an area that was not covered by any fire department, so he helped establish the first fire department in the area, Lakes Volunteer Fire Department, in 1978.  Their first call was a house fire they extinguished using shovels and snow.  Lakes VFD’s first truck was parked in his garage, and the other volunteers would respond to his house on fire calls.  He managed the volunteer construction of two fire stations, donating materials and his labor.  The Lakes Volunteer Fire Department was the first in the area to use the Jaws of Life, and Jim responded to vehicle accidents all over the Mat-Su Borough.  After Lakes VFD merged with neighboring Wasilla VFD, becoming the Central Mat-Su FD, Jim became the Assistant Chief and Training Officer, one of 3 paid members on the 150 member / 5 station department.  His call-sign was Central 3-3, his lucky numbers, and a call-sign that was not re-issued after his retirement. In all, he served 18 years on the fire department.

In 1987, he met his soulmate and partner in adventure Catherine (Kate) Randolph, and they married on January 26, 1992 during the Superbowl and after a morning of Ice Rescue training.  They celebrated their 30th Anniversary one week before his death.

In 1999, following 3 years in the Seattle area, Jim and Kate moved to Fruita, CO where he continued his volunteer work and public service.  He built over 100 wheelchair ramps for disabled indigent people through the RSVP Handyman Program and is currently pictured on the cover of their flyer.

He was active in the Mesa County Search and Rescue ATV Team, responding to numerous midnight (and occasional daytime) missions for lost or injured people.  He was a member of the Western Slope ATV Association, helping on numerous trail construction and repair projects on the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre Plateau.  He was a member of the K9 Search and Rescue team based in Dolores, CO, responding to numerous large-scale searches and training events in CO, AZ and NM and performing maintenance on their equipment.  Most recently he was active with Western Slope Search Dogs, helping with training and logistics.

He had been active in the Lions Club since 1990.  He served as President of the Wasilla Nooners Lions, the Maple Valley, WA Lions and the Fruita, CO Lions.  In 2007, Jim was honored by Lions Club International Foundation with the Melvin Jones Fellowship, their highest form of recognition to acknowledge an individual’s dedication to humanitarian service.

Jim was a member of the volunteer Wildlife Rescue Team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responding to injured wildlife, capturing and transporting the animals to proper care.  He assisted in capturing wild turkeys to band them, cooked for youth hunts, and transported elk heads for CWD testing.

He volunteered with the Red Cross, deploying with their Emergency Response Vehicle to Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Ike in 2005, to Texas after Gustav in 2008, and Windsor, CO following their devastating tornadoes in 2008.  He assisted in multiple shelter operations in the Grand Valley.

Prior to his marriage to Kate, he had three daughters from other marriages: Paula Suzette Hilliard who preceded him in death, Dimitra Kay Steeley, and Christina Elizabeth Jones.

Jim enjoyed travelling and drove the Alaska Highway 18 times.  He drove motorhomes thousands of miles visiting friends, family and shipmates from coast to coast.  Jim hunted, fished, boated, watched NASCAR races (sometimes in person), spent time with family, and generally enjoyed life.

Jim is survived by his wife Kate Malapanes; one brother, Hercules (and Shelah) Malapanes of Cottonwood, AZ; three sisters, Stella Scarla, Effie Churchill, and Georgia McCormick, all of Phoenix; two daughters Dimitra Steeley (and Dr. Mark Steeley) of Rockford, TN, and Christina Jones of Sparta, TN; and ex-wife Mira Dobson of Phoenix, AZ.  He has ten grandchildren, and amazing numbers of great- grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

Jim was met at the heavenly gates by his parents; brothers Vasilios (Bill) Malapanes, Pietro (Pete) Malapanes; sister Mary McGann; two brothers that died in infancy; daughter Paula Suzette Watson; son-in-law Mike Weems, grandson Jason Nicholas Jones, and beautiful, intelligent, athletic grand-daughter Kristin Jones.

Jim’s entire life was dedicated to public service, both paid and volunteer.  He thrived when he was helping other people.  He enriched and saved many lives through his work.  He was truly an “Angel Among Us”.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Jim’s name to any of the organizations named above or to your own favorite charity.

There will be a visitation on February 16, 2022, from 10am to noon at Brown’s Funeral Home at 904 N. 7th St, Grand Junction, CO.  This will be followed by interment at the Veterans Cemetery of Western Colorado at 1pm.  The family requests that attendees wear the uniforms or insignia of the organization through which they know Jim, if possible.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of James Malapanes, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

10:00 - 11:45 am (Mountain time)

Brown's Cremation and Funeral Service Chapel

904 N 7th St, Grand Junction, CO 81501

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Honors Ceremony

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Starts at 1:00 pm (Mountain time)

Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado

2830 Riverside Pkwy, Grand Junction, CO 81501

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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