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Knoxville resident, Tennessee Tech alumnus celebrates 100th birthday
Submitted by Kelly Chambers
February 16, 2024

jim herschel boehms celebrates 100th birthday
Tennessee Tech alumnus James "Jim" Herschel Boehms turned 100 years young on Feb. 15, 2024.

KNOXVILLE - Knoxville resident James “Jim” Herschel Boehms turned 100 years young on Feb. 15, 2024.

His nephew, Bill Norton, says the secret to turning 100 is that his uncle has done a lot of things right in his life: a Tennessee Tech University electrical engineering degree which led to a successful career as an engineer with Tennessee Valley Authority, a loving family and a fulfilling retirement. Jim says many of his successes might not have happened if not for Tech.

“Tech gave me the background, education and confidence to step into a new place and a new job,” Jim said. “I couldn’t have done anything, really, without my degree from Tech. Tech has always opened doors for me.”

Jim enrolled at Tech, then known as Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, in 1941 through the National Youth Administration program, which paid for his tuition.

“I chose Tennessee Tech because it had 'tech' in its name,” Jim said. “I liked that Tech had a technical focus. The rest is history.”

Unfortunately, Jim’s college education was put on hold on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States was suddenly at war, and the NYA program funding Jim’s college education was discontinued. Jim landed a job in Omaha, Neb., at a factory that built airplanes for the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, now the U.S. Air Force, in 1943 and was discharged in 1946. After his military service, Jim returned to Tech on the G.I. Bill to finish his degree.

During his senior year at Tech, Jim put his electrical engineering education to practical use when he and his father Herschel wired the family’s new home for electricity. The previous Boehms family home burned down while Jim was in Omaha, and the family lost almost everything.

“This was during the war time,” Jim explained. “It was hard to get materials. Windows for the new home were actually donated by a hotel that was being torn down. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my dad and I wired the house. And this was before wiring like they have today where you just twist the wires together with a wire nut connector. All of our connections had to be soldered. We wired the house together, and it passed inspection!”

Jim credits this to his Tech education and a Sears, Roebuck guide on wiring homes.

“That booklet included step-by-step instructions on how to make connections and pull wires,” Jim said.

“Getting electricity was like going from night to day,” Jim added. “My mother got an electric range and an electric refrigerator right away and gradually added a few more things. Now, you can’t imagine going without electricity, but it wasn’t available to us back then, so we had to do it.”

Jim graduated from Tech in 1949 and, after working for a concrete testing company for two years, received a letter from TVA offering him a job.

He retired from TVA in 1984 after 33 years. He has enjoyed every minute of his retirement and is grateful for a successful career and retirement plan with TVA that afforded him the opportunity to travel with his wife, Lyla, until she passed away in 2014.

Jim added, “I’ve heard Max Sprouse, the head electrical engineer and later head engineer of the design division of TVA, say many times, ‘I like to get those Tennessee Tech grads. You can put them at a desk and they go to work. All they want to do is work.’”

Jim’s love for Tech and success in electrical engineering inspired other family members to attend Tech and pursue a similar career path as well, including Jim’s nephew, Dennis Boehms (`78 electrical engineering), and niece, Joni Batson (`78 electrical engineering).

“Tech was an easy decision for me,” Joni said. “I’d heard about it my whole life from Uncle Jim. My dad also worked for TVA and so did Dennis’s dad, so we all have this connection between TVA and electrical engineering and Tennessee Tech. Uncle Jim was always so encouraging and enthusiastic about Tech. We all did very well after going there.”

Jim’s engineering accomplishments include work on all the coal-fired plants that were in the TVA fleet as well as some groundbreaking work on TVA’s first and largest nuclear power plant, Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. Given the nuclear regulatory requirements and the size and complexity of the plant, the project was under obvious scrutiny. Jim routinely presented design concepts and plans to the regulators as TVA’s representative for auxiliary power.

Jim has stayed connected with Tech through the decades - attending sporting events, sitting in the President’s Box at football games and serving as treasurer of the Tennessee Tech alumni chapter in his area.

“The chapter didn’t have much money, so it was fine,” he joked.

Jim has also chosen to give back to his alma mater for more than 45 years, giving to numerous areas on campus including the Eagle Assistance Grant (an emergency grant for students in need) and Tech’s nursing building, Bell Hall. But the majority of his gifts have been designated for the College of Engineering.

“Tech had given me so much,” Jim explained. “Without Tech, I might have been scrubbing floors. I feel like I owe Tech, so I continue to give.”

Although 75 years have passed since Jim graduated from Tech, what set Tech apart in the 1940s remains true today.

“One great thing about Tennessee Tech is you can get to know your professors,” Jim said. “At a big university, I don’t think that’s possible. But at Tech, you can get to know them, and they will know you. Their doors are open, and you can go in and talk to them. That’s easy to do there. Tech prepared me for a 33-year career as an electrical engineer. Without Tech, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

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