In Memoriam: James Waters (1940-2018)


Editor’s Note: The following is an obituary of the dedicated community champion James Waters. It will be followed in the coming weeks by a personal reminiscence with his wife, Nancy Waters, the Muskegon County Clerk, who will be interviewed by Diana Coleman. However, we would also like to honor him and let people know in a timely fashion that there will be a memorial service for Mr. Waters held Sept. 15 at 4:00 p.m. at The Lee Chapel, 6291 S. Harvey St., Norton Shores. The service will be preceded by visitation at 3:00 p.m.

The communities of greater Muskegon and the legal profession were saddened recently to find out that  attorney and benefactor James L. Waters died unexpectedly last Friday, August 31.

Waters was born March 15, 1940, in Arkansas, and grew up in Dowagiac, Michigan. After attending the local schools, where he excelled in both academic pursuits and sports, he married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Ann Finley, in 1960.

Following that, he attended Western Michigan University, graduating in 1967 with a Bachelor of Business Management, and went on to the University of Michigan Law School for his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree.

Fate took him and Nancy, who would go on to become the County Clerk, to Muskegon when he joined the McCroskey Law Firm. After 20 years in practice there, he started his own firm, The James L. Waters Law Offices, specializing in Social Security/Disability and workers’ compensation claims as well as negligence and medical malpractice cases. He worked there 25 years, and was still in practice at the date of his passing – his last post on the firm’s Facebook page was Aug. 29.

Jim and Nancy Waters had a son Mark, who passed away in 2015. Mark was the voice of WCXT-FM, a radio station in Hart founded by the couple. The license for the station was awarded after a landmark decision that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jim Waters was also elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents in 1970, serving for 24 years. The University of Michigan gave him a Distinguished Alumni Service award in 1996.

He was also a philanthropist and leader in the Muskegon area, and the Waters Center for the Performing Arts at Muskegon Heights High school bears the couple’s name.

Other awards include the 2010  Muskegon Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds Award, Omega Psi Phil Fraternity recognition for his support of their scholarship fund, and, in 2017, the True Blue Award from the 2nd Congressional Democratic Party.

His community service encompasses everything from serving on the Michigan State Board of Canvassers and on the Community Foundation for Muskegon County to being a member of Muskegon County Men Who Care and a life member of the NAACP.

In addition to wife Nancy, Jim Waters is survived by his mother, brothers Leroy and Larry, and many other relatives and friends. His father, brothers John, Milton, and Henry, and, as mentioned, his son predeceased him. 

“He will be remembered for his deep intelligence, wit, and sense of humor,” his obituary says.

Comments and condolences may be left on The Sytsema websites,

The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, those considering honoring Jim Waters give a contribution to the Nancy Waters and Mark Waters Fund administered by the Muskegon County Community Foundation (