Jim McCasland was a big man. He stood tall and walked even taller. And for those who knew and loved this gentle giant, it’s not necessarily the bigness of his stature they remember, rather it was the bigness of his heart.

McCasland was known for his loving and caring ways towards his family and friends. The man with the heart of gold that would help anyone at any time. And it was on November 6, 2015, that Jim’s heart gave out on him. At the age of 59, his heart stopped.

McCasland’s wife of 18 ½ years, Lori Sievers of Slater, remembers that day like it was yesterday. The day that her partner with the heart bigger than gold, brought into her life by God, was gone.

“Jim had some heart issues,” explains Lori from her family home just outside of Slater. “One morning he told me that he needed to go to the hospital and to call 911. While we waited for the paramedics to arrive, we had time to say good bye and how much we loved each other and just like that he was gone.”

This is not your typical girl meets boy story. This is a love story in the truest sense.

Lori Sievers grew up in Slater. Local girl with a young family, alone. She was focused on her children she was raising and taking care of.

Jim McCasland lived in Huxley. He and his wife, Deb, also had a young family. Deb and Lori were friends and were both educators in Ames.

Life was good.

Then Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer and didn’t win that battle. Jim and Lori helped each other out with their small children, all much the same age.

“We had our kids at the same babysitter,” tells Lori. “Seven of them, all about the same age, some of which were good friends at the time.”

Eventually, their friendship grew.

“God brought us together,” said Lori. “We got married and Jim adopted my children and we became one big family. The kids were best friends, but we did have some bumps in the road. We were pretty much your normal family with seven children.

”Jim worked as an environmental specialist for Polk County for 32 years. In June of 2012, he retired.

“Jim was someone who would never give up on people,” tells Lori. “He spent endless hours with the kids and more recently with the grandkids. We always had lots of family around with siblings and spouses. Most of our children live in the area with their families. And when they were all younger, we not only had a full house with our own children, but we always had what Jim called our “non-deductible” children here too. There were several times that there were kids that needed a place to live and we took them in. And there were always the best friends that spent a good amount of time in our home, too. We loved having them all under our roof.”

Ask Jim and Lori’s friends their memories of Jim and many could sum it up in just a few words. Words like “no bounds,” “lots of love and zest for life,” “kind and caring.”

I guess you could say they pretty much thought of him as a really good guy.

Daughter Kristina explains how growing up with a father like Jim made her feel like they had always been a family.

Kristina explains: “Dad literally would do anything for any of us, and I could always count on him doing anything for me that I needed. Even before his death, when he was sick, he would watch my little girl for me. From the time our two families became one, we never had the blended feeling — we were simply family.”

When family and friends have to say goodbye to a loved one, they often try to find a way to memorialize that person. In this case, it was pretty easy to do that.

“Jim and Duke, our dog, often walked on the Heart of Iowa Trail that is located just south of our property,” Lori tells. “The two of them would be “taking the scenic route” as Jim would say. He so appreciated the little things in life and would walk on the trail and talk about life to anyone he could get to go with him. Sometimes it was just Jim and Duke, and other times he would talk one of the kids into going with him.”

Family friends, Mike and Garnnet Knox of Huxley, suggested a bench placed on the trail where Jim used to walk and discuss the issues of the world. They set up a fund and it didn’t take too long to reach a goal financially, and then to work with the Department of Natural Resources and have a bench set on the trail about two miles from the family home.

On a recent beautiful Saturday morning, friends and family gathered at that site and watched Jim’s sons help lift the bench off the DNR truck and place it in its permanent spot. A spot where those walking or biking on the trail can stop and take in the beautiful countryside.

A plaque is attached to the bench which reads “Let’s take the Scenic Route.” This was the spot that Jim would walk to and his family and friends wanted others to enjoy the beauty of Iowa in this very spot, to rest and ponder.

“We want all those who come to this spot to be happy,” said Lori. “Jim always, always saw the lighter side of any situation. This truly was the scenic route for Jim.”

Lori felt that God was ready for Jim. This man that was bigger than life, or as some said, he was a big ball of fun. The Iowa State fan to the bone who loved his family and friends more than life itself.

On this Saturday morning, after the bench was set into place, each took their turn sitting on Jim’s bench, taking photos and remembering the man that would rather take the scenic route.

The pain of his loss is still present. The man himself is gone, but that heart as big as they come, will live on in his grandchildren’s smiles.

He will be missed, but he will always be remembered.