James Whitcomb Riley, Jr.

Just learned of the passing of an old friend last December, Jim Riley.  Jim was a Ph.D. student and one of the assistant debate coaches of the great University of Utah debate teams of the middle 1970s.

He was also the guy who taught me how to properly light and smoke a cigar after we nearly won the Western Speech Association Debate Tournament at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (1974?).  Lighting a cigar properly is a skill every gentleman should have, even those who do not smoke.  He was a great friend, a wonderful life advisor, and a normal guy in a time and place when normalcy was a rare virtue.

Riley invented the famous Riley Extension as a debater for Washburn University.  The Riley Extension is an argument towards significance of an affirmative case, usually, and is boiled down to two simple questions:  “So what?  Who cares?”

The Riley Extension is now a featured piece of analysis in many Advanced Placement courses in social studies, especially history where the answering of the two questions tends to make for much better essay answers.

Here’s the memoriam note from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.  Jim retired from Northwest in 2005, and held the position Emeritus Professor:

Jim Riley

August 18, 1943 — December 26, 2008

James Whitcomb Riley Jr., 65,  died Friday, Dec. 26, in Wellington, Kans.

Services were held Friday, Jan. 2, 2009, at 10:30 a.m. in the Nelson Performing Arts Auditorium at Northwest College.

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

James W.  Riley Jr. was born Aug. 18, 1943, the son of Dr. James Whitcomb Riley Sr. and Carolyn Crenshaw Riley in Oklahoma City, Okla. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washburn University in Topeka, Kans. He attended three years of Law School at Washburn before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a military policeman in Germany and Vietnam.

Jim returned to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, to earn his Master’s degree in Speech Communication where he also taught and coached forensics. Jim furthered his education at the University of Utah while continuing to coach. Jim later taught and coached forensics and debate at the University of Nevada Reno and Boise State University. In 1977, Jim began teaching at Northwest College in Powell.

On May 4, 1991, he was united in marriage with Laura (Barker) Hagerman. Jim retired from teaching at Northwest College in 2005 and later received the status of Professor Emeritus in the spring of 2008.

Jim was an avid outdoorsman. He had a passion for hunting, camping, cutting firewood and river rafting. His fondest outdoor adventure took him down the Grand Canyon with friends, family, and colleagues. Jim also enjoyed teaching, reading and spending time with family, friends and the family’s two dogs.

Surviving to honor his memory are his father, Dr. James W. Riley Sr. of Wellington, Kans.; wife, Laura Riley of Powell; daughter, Mallory Riley of Powell; sons Daniel Hagerman and his wife Abbey Hagerman of Laramie, Jeremy Hagerman and his wife Kelly Shriver of Olympia, Wash., Nathan Hagerman and his wife Melissa Hagerman of Anchorage, Alaska, and Taylor Riley of Powell; and three grandchildren, Mikayla Hagerman, Natalie Hagerman and Collin Poe.

Preceding him in death was his mother, Carolyn Crenshaw Riley, on Jan. 2, 2006.

In Jim’s honor, the James W. Riley Communications Scholarship fund was established to help provide quality, affordable education for students majoring in Communications at Northwest College. Applicants must have a minimum 3.5 high school GPA and must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA while attending NWC. Donations to the James W. Riley Scholarship can be made here .

6 Responses to James Whitcomb Riley, Jr.

  1. Dennis Hadick says:

    Mr. Kersten and Family:

    My father, George Joseph Hadick (1917-1999) loved The Passing of the Backhouse. After his passing we have attempted to do a search to factual claim of authorship and thus would like to share what little we have, if it is help to anyone attempting to do same. The poem deserves its proper recognition of authorship and place in American literary history.

    My father had made a copy of the poem (it also credited to JW Riley) and written on the same page in my father’s hand “said to be dated 1932 when found in a family bible”. With the poem is a separate photo overlaid, the picture showing a classic outhouse on the first rise of a series of hills in the distance beyond with a well worn path in what looks like Great Plains grass to the outhouse door. At the bottom of the photo (perhaps a new chapter separator page or title page? – not sure) with the title: The End of the Trail, and no other related information given such as author, etc.

    The photo included may simply be my father’s desire to have a picture of an outhouse with the poem attached for his recollections of times gone by, but again we want to at least share what we have as well as add to the reflections of the wonderful sentiment of good life’s lived and times gone by.

    Great Respects,

    Dennis Hadick


  2. Laura Riley says:

    I am Laura Riley, Jim’s wife. I want to also thank everyone for their remarks about Jim. We would love to hear any more stories, tales, or just words that bring him back to our memories. He was a great guy and is very much missed!


  3. Mallory Blair Riley says:

    Hi everyone, this is Jim’s youngest kid. Thank you all so much for the comments and for the original post. It was something I had not known about my father and that I find very interesting especially since I am a debater. I’d love to know anything anyone remembers or would like to share with me about my dad. Feel free to post the memories :) I’ll be looking at them.


  4. Abbey Hagerman says:

    I’m one of the late James Riley, Jr.’s daughter-in-laws. I saw your post on him and really appreciated your comments. I’ll be sure to pass them along to the rest of the family.

    Take care,



  5. Ed Darrell says:

    We used to joke about the name. My recollection is that Jim denied any relation to the poet.

    Perhaps you could write to his widow in Powell, Wyoming, to ask. I do not have her address, and I’m assuming she’s still in Powell here 10 months later.

    Oh — and a quick Google search turned up a challenge to the Riley provenance of the poem; go see, here:

    Also see this entry:


  6. Daniel D. Kersten says:

    Dear Sir;
    I was just reading your website while trolling for info on James Whitcomb Riley and found your comments on JWRiley, jr. I find it almost impossible that he is not a direct decendant of the famed hoosier poet and thus am prompted to write to you . I am now 82 and have for the most of my life been trying to follow the challenged autorities of the old man having written that wonderful Ode to the Passing of the Backhouse. At his museum they claim it is spurious, but I have a pretty good claim to its being a valid thing. My father was in the U. of Minnesota when the old man died (1916) and the converstion came up about this poem with as fellow student he knew. He told my father that it was most certainly Riley that wrote it because his father was one of his pallbearers and was at the house after the funeral and saw the oginal copy in the private effects on his desk! Off course , everyone would say that this is mere hearsay, but I know my sources and trust them. I would like to have a little outside verification if possible by some member of the family. I don’t really care who wants to believe this story but it is one that is among many that my father had that are not too well known and shouln’t be lost in the family where I think it counts and when no one else really cares enough to look beyond the usual history books. If you could give me some information or some contact with this family I would appreciate it no end. Thank you so much for letting me bend your ear. Keep up the interesting website! Dan Kersten


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: