Jim West didn’t attend Arizona State University. But when it came to Sun Devil Football, the longtime Phoenix resident was a devoted fan who thoroughly enjoyed going to pregame tailgates and talking up the maroon and gold with his fellow season ticket-holders.
When Jim died at the age of 82 in October 2020, it was a difficult time for his family, including his son, Josh West, and daughter-in-law, Christine West, who live in Colorado. With the timing of his passing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they weren’t able to hold a public memorial.
Nearly a year later in 2021, Christine came up with the perfect idea for a proper way to celebrate the memory of their beloved family member and ASU superfan.
“Jim loved ASU, and it was one of his passions that he shared with everyone he met. I can remember countless visits when Jim was excited about a player or something going on with the team, and his eyes would light up talking about it,” Christine said. “Because I knew that Sun Devil Football was such a huge part of his life, I wanted to incorporate ASU somehow into the weekend of his memorial.”
Christine reached out to Robin Okun Hengl, the executive director for parent engagement at ASU, and after talking through some ideas with Hengl, came up with the idea of coupling a memorial with a tailgate birthday dinner at ASU. Josh’s birthday was on Oct. 1, so they planned the event for Saturday, Oct. 2, outside Sun Devil Stadium.
At Hengl's suggestion, Christine decided to get a Sun Devil Legacy Brick made in Jim's name as a memorial to give to her husband. Through the Sun Devil Legacy Brick campaign, ASU fans can purchase the engraved, commemorative bricks to be placed on the paved walkways outside the Tempe stadium. A replica brick is also given to the families who purchase one.
Bringing in food from Josh’s favorite Arizona taqueria, Backyard Tacos, and carrot cake cupcakes, Christine also invited some of Josh’s friends to attend. Plans for the memorial, tailgate and birthday celebration were complete.
“Christine told me before we left for Arizona about the plans for my birthday,” Josh said. “I was very excited to tailgate by the stadium like my dad used to, and spend time with my closest friends. My dad was definitely smiling down on all of us that day.”
The family arrived on campus on Friday, Oct. 1, picked up some Sun Devil swag courtesy of the ASU Alumni Association, ASU Family and the ASU Foundation, and set up their table and camping chairs for the tailgate.
And with ASU football playing an away game at UCLA that weekend, the family received a special bonus.
“We were excited to find we could walk into the stadium and take a moment to reflect,” Josh said. “My best friends, who all still live in Arizona, came to celebrate with us. We had a game of cornhole going, music playing and our kids ran around together laughing. I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate my birthday this year.
“Christine presented the certificate for the memorial brick to me, and it meant so much to know that my dad will always be a part of the stadium he loved so much. It will be a special moment to come back to ASU next season and find the brick with his name.”
Jim lived in the Phoenix area for more than 60 years. He loved all Arizona sports, but his devotion for Sun Devil Football really grew in 1997, when ASU legends Pat Tillman and Jake Plummer led the team to the Rose Bowl, Josh said.
“Once my dad retired, he got season tickets and loved to tailgate in the parking lot with all of the other Sun Devils fans. He loved talking about ASU football history with the other season ticket-holders,” Josh said.
“Even though I attended the University of Arizona, my dad's love for ASU stayed strong, and it was fun to have a healthy bit of competition in our house. In 2003, David Smith, a childhood friend of mine, attended ASU and played defensive tackle for the team. My dad loved having the connection to David and cheering him on from the stands.”
The elder West was such an avid ASU fan that he built a 1957 Ford F-100 with a Cadillac 472 engine and painted it ASU gold with maroon flames, complete with a pitchfork and “Go Devils” written on it.
“My dad built this truck from the frame up and always wanted it to be a true hot rod with ASU flair," Josh said. "He spent eight years rebuilding this truck in a shop that he and I built together one summer when I was in college. He was so proud of the custom touches and always dreamed of parking it outside the ASU football stadium for home games.”
Josh grew up in Chandler, Arizona. and then moved to Littleton, Colorado, in 2005, where he lives with Christine and their 7-year-old daughter. With his father’s ties to ASU, he said the October 2021 celebration outside Sun Devil Stadium “meant the world to me.”
“It would have meant a lot to him to see us all together in this space, and I wish he could have been there,” Josh said. “All of the ASU swag also made his service on Saturday much more festive, and I am so thankful to have had the support from Robin to make it all happen.”
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