US Air Force

James R. McDonagh

March 12, 1932 ~ January 27, 2020 (age 87)


James Robert McDonagh: husband, father, engineer, builder, and occasional Santa Claus, 87, died peacefully in his home in Roseville on Monday, January 27, 2020. Jim was born in Saginaw, Michigan, on March 12, 1932. His parents were Elizabeth (Kerns) Schroeder and his much loved step-father Ted Schroeder.

After graduating from Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw, MI, Jim attended community college for two years and was even on the cheerleading squad (Imagine that!). Jim entered the Air Force in the early 1950s. Instead of being deployed to Korea, he was stationed in both Maine and at Sioux Lookout in Ontario, Canada. This was part of the “Pine Tree Line,” which was a series of radar stations built to detect a Soviet bomber attack on the United States. Jim’s years in the Air Force yielded many great stories about dealing with officers, including the Canadian authorities who didn’t seem to know what to do with the American servicemen in their midst. As far as we can tell, a great deal of diplomacy was conducted over card games and at the local pubs.

Jim thrived in the Air Force and took great pride in his time there. After his honorable discharge, he used the GI Benefit to attend college at Michigan State University in Lansing, MI. Along with schooling came extra curricular activities, such as get togethers with fellow students. One night, which seemed like any other, Jim and friends were gathered listening to records. However, this night was not like others. On this night, he met a beautiful young woman in a sweater set. That woman turned out to be Jim’s future wife of 61 years, Louise Marion Parr. After that evening, Louise would often wait for Jim in front of the dorms, watching him step off the curb to greet her. They married on September 13, 1958.

Jim and Louise moved to Rochester, MN in the mid 1960s where they worked together in Jim’s building and engineering businesses. They raised four children: Jonathan, Anna, Sarah, and Jim. Each having their own unique “Dad had to take me to the emergency room” story. They moved to St. Paul in 1990 and then to their current home in Roseville in 2010.

Jim was a Licensed Civil Engineer and had so much passion for his work. During the second half of his career, Jim was self-employed and worked as a Forensic Engineer. In the course of construction, if something went wrong or a building component failed, Jim was hired to review the plans and details to determine the cause of the failure. He truly enjoyed researching all aspects of a problem and composing detailed reports to explain where an error occurred.

Jim especially cherished the years when his daughter, Sarah, worked with him in his business. Jim and Sarah were two peas in a pod when it came to work. They spent countless hours writing reports, preparing for court, and making work enjoyable with humor.

Jim and Louise enjoyed being together while taking car trips, watching movies, laughing over shared jokes, and spending time with their family.   Jim and Louise owned a sailboat for many years and visited Bayfield, WI often. They would join their sons Jonathan and Jim, sailing on Lake Superior and around the Apostle Islands. Sailing continues to be a substantial part in both son Jonathan and Jim’s lives.

Jim was a kind father and extremely proud of his children; son Jim fondly remembers receiving a wonderful compliment from his Dad, praising his common sense. When his children were young, Jim enjoyed spending time with them as their Cub and Boy Scout leader and also would cheer them on during horsemanship events. 

Jim was an avid reader all his life and loved to give books as gifts, as well as receive them. His office, which was always full to the ceiling with books, were heavily focused on military. Jim was a huge history buff and had a remarkable memory for details. Jim, Louise, and daughter Anna once took a car trip to the east coast, where Jim gave detailed instructions so that Louise and Anna could re-enact the “single most important naval battle in the history of the world” on the Revolutionary War battlefield at Yorktown, VA. Along with his vast knowledge of military history, Jim was passionate about his toy soldier collection. Not only did he collect these, he would also build them himself. It was remarkable to watch Jim working at his foundry in the cabin garage-- pouring molten lead into the molds to cast little, scale, replica military regiments, bands, and corps.  

On top of all of Jim’s accomplishments, he also loved being a grandfather to his granddaughters Allie, Kaite, and Erin. Jim’s beloved grandfather Fredrick Kerns was one of the most important people in Jim’s childhood. Jim followed Fred’s example and spent as much time as he could with his granddaughters: taking care of them when they were too sick to go to daycare, attending school events, getting to know their friends, helping with college applications, and simply being there when they needed him most.

Jim is preceded in death by his maternal grandparents Edith and Fredrick Kerns, his parents, and brother Fritz Schroeder.

Jim is survived by his wife, Louise; children: Jonathan (Heather Fraser), Anna (Scott Krinke), Sarah (Jeff Pulvermacher), Jim (Molly Hall); grandchildren: Allie Bonyata, Kaite Miller, Erin McDonagh; sister Patsy (Rex) Silvers; as well as other relatives and friends.

No visitation or service is scheduled at this time. Jim’s family will schedule a private memorial service at a future date.

Please mail condolences to Louise McDonagh c/o Anna McDonagh, 44391 Acacia Trail, Harris, MN 55032  email -

Memorials may be sent to Alzheimer’s Association

Jim’s family wishes to extend our sincere thanks to the Allina Hospice Team and especially to both Hannah and Kate, who were sent to us as angels at just the right time. Thank you.

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