Jim Jontz might be best known for his career in politics, but don’t confuse him with a politician. In fact, in the volatile world of politics today, somebody like Jontz would be a breath of fresh air. His embracing of populist politics was born out of his community activism, something that was kindled at a very young age.
After graduating from North Central, Jontz received a degree in geology from Indiana University, where he was also president of the Indiana Eco-Coalition. He was passionate about the environment, learning everything about it, and doing everything he could to protect it. That led to work with the Indiana Conservation Council, and an unpaid appointed job as a caretaker of a nature preserve in west central Indiana. A proposed dam project of the Big Pine Creek had conservationists up in arms, including Jontz. The dam project would have disastrous results for rural Warren County, and was sponsored by the Indiana House Majority Leader, John Guy. Jontz needed to find somebody to run against Guy, but there were no takers. At 22-years-old, Jontz got into politics. He ran for state representative. He won.
What followed was an unlikely political career that would span nearly two decades. He would serve from 1975-1984 in the Indiana House, from 1985-1986 in the Indiana Senate, and from 1987-1992 in the U.S. House of Representatives. A progressive Democrat, Jontz was able to win in his rural districts with a brand of personal politics that engrained him with the community. He logged thousands of miles to personally meet with every community, walking door to door to share what he felt were the pressing issues and learning from his constituents. He famously wore the tread off the soles of his shoes during one campaign trip. His passion and endless optimism made him a champion to many.
After his run in political office ended in 1992, Jontz moved west, inspired by legislation he helped pass to conserve land in the Pacific Northwest. He championed environmental causes and worked to help to bridge the gap between environmental and labor groups. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005 and would pass away two years later.