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Jim West ’59

From a P-38 to an IRA

Jim West ’59 has a financial instrument that did not even exist “back in the day”: the individual retirement account. He finds it to be a “marvelous way to give back,” especially for those who have reached the age of 70 1/2.

His desire to give back to the Air Force Academy can be traced back to a P-38.

“When I was in the second grade back in Illinois, one day a P-38 flew over our school. I was so inspired to become an aviator that when I later learned the Air Force Academy was going to open, it was a dream come true,” says West, pictured here with a P-38 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.  After graduating as a member of the Academy’s first class, he did indeed embark on an aviation career, starting on the new C-130 and transitioning to the commercial sector, where he piloted for Western Airlines and then Delta.

When he reached the mandatory airline retirement age, he and his wife, Carol, whom he met on a train stranded in a Kansas blizzard as a cadet, first settled in Texas. A few years later they acquired a small southwestern Colorado ranch, building an adobe-style house with sweeping views of nearby mountain ranges. Soon the next chapter will take them to a retirement community in Grand Junction, Colorado, once the ranch is sold. They continue to enjoy travel, with many trips to see their daughter nearby and their 1982 Academy graduate son in Texas.

“I appreciate what the Academy meant to both my son and me; our lives have been blessed,” West says. “The Sabre Society seemed to be a great opportunity to give back to the Academy. For many years, we wrote a check, but now it is so convenient to contact our financial advisor and request a transfer from my IRA to fund the donation. It is also a great opportunity to withdraw part of my IRA’s required minimum distribution so it is not taxed as income.”

In addition to being recognized as Sabre Society donors, the West are members of the Polaris Society in recognition of a future legacy gift to support USAFA.

For more information on the technicalities of using an IRA distribution to make a gift to the USAFA Endowment, contact Dale Zschoche, director of gift planning, at or 719-238-7510.