While he was a professor at the University of Missouri, James ‘Jim’ Koller was dedicated to helping and encouraging others.
Dr. Koller, who died Wednesday at the age of 79, worked in the MU Department of Education and Counseling Psychology. His scholarly work included establishing a center for identifying and evaluating learning disabilities as well as education of school systems in suicide prevention. Kim Stephens, Dr. Koller’s daughter, said her father was instrumental in beginning the disability center on campus because of his application for a $1 million grant that funded the center.
“Certainly there were other people that were important parts of the process, but we were really proud of that,” Stephens said.
She said her father was very big on promoting positivity. He was always trying his best to enhance the students’ learning experience and help them be more successful in school as well as in life.
Jim Koller, Dr. Koller’s son who is an associate professor of clinical medicine at MU, said people describe his father as a cheerleader because he always encouraged them.
One of Dr. Koller’s past students sent a text to Stephens, paying respect to his recent passing and showing her gratitude for the professor’s support during her graduate studies. “As one of his students, it was apparent that he cared so deeply,” the text read.
Edwin Morris, Dr. Koller’s good friend and colleague, had also compiled a few comments from students and professionals who knew him.
One of the students wrote, “Dr. Koller was also a legend at Mizzou ... He was incredibly supportive of students and provided us all with great opportunities ... I’m thankful to have known him and for his foundational leadership for our field.”
In an email Morris sent Stephens, he said Dr. Koller was his dissertation adviser before they became colleagues. Throughout the years they had worked on several projects such as the Mental Health Education Integration Consortium, which aims to prepare educators in supporting student mental health, as well as consultations with student journalists to promote their well-being with reporting on traumatic news.
Stephens said the family often joked that he never really retired, even after 35 years of working at MU. He was still getting phone calls after his formal retirement in 2007 from his colleagues or other people who were seeking his immediate help in a crisis.
Dr. Koller’s other daughter, Kris Behrns, once said to his wife Karen Koller, “We knew that as long dad was behind us, we were invincible.”
Behrns also mentioned to her mother that her father had a strong faith. “Thank God for God,” was his favorite saying, she said.
Dr. Koller was a family man and a social butterfly.
“He was very involved in his grandkids’ life, in just about every way that he was able to,” Stephens said. “He was always just wanting to buy them treats ... when they would come down and spend the night.”
He also coached his kids‘ and grandkids‘ Little League Baseball teams for many years, Jim Koller said.
Dr. Koller’s youngest daughter, Katie Fabbiano, said one of her favorite things was how her parents would call and sing happy birthday first thing in the morning for everyone in the family.
Stephens admired her parent’s loving relationship and said that is was a testimony of commitment, faithfulness and respect.
Karen Koller reminisced about the time when they were in the hospital together when he was just diagnosed with cancer.
“One of the nurses became fond of her patient James Koller, and she asked him if she could give him a hug. And he said, ‘Well, I want to ask my wife first,’” she said.
Stephens said a lot of people loved being around her father. There were many times nurses had said positive things about Dr. Koller, and even requested to take care of him.
“That just speaks about his heart and his desire to just try to make people laugh and just fill them up,” Mrs. Koller said. “He always had a witty sense of humor.”
Friends and family will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at St. Thomas More Newman Center, with a Mass of Christian Burial to be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 22. Inurnment will be private for the family.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in his honor may be made to The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri, c/o Parker-Millard Funeral Service, 12 East Ash Street, Columbia, Missouri.