‘He has touched each of us’ – Friends remember ex-Riverland student as fun, carefree

Published 10:22 am Monday, June 2, 2014

A kind, selfless man with a strong faith.

That’s how area residents are remembering 28-year-old James Winnes of Albert Lea, who was struck and killed in a head-on collision last week on Interstate 35 one mile north of the Iowa border.

Winnes was reportedly driving northbound on I-35 near the Minnesota Welcome Center on Wednesday when he collided with a 1995 Mercury Sable, driven by Kirt Schmidt, 46, of Owatonna.



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Schmidt was driving southbound in the northbound lanes at the time of the crash and also died. Why he was driving the wrong way on the interstate remains unclear.

“I got the news when I came into work the next morning, and I was devastated,” said Tim Anderson, a mechanic at Interstate Motors in Mason City. “Everybody here was kind of shook up.

‘He lit up the room’

Winnes moved to Albert Lea about four years ago to earn a degree in diesel mechanics from Riverland Community College and had commuted to Interstate Motors for work for about 1 1/2 years.

Dawn Broitzman, who works at both the Albert Lea and Mason City Interstate Motors locations, said she is a better person for having known Winnes.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said. “He has touched each of us personally with his kind, sweet, gentle personality.”

Broitzman said Winnes was a talented mechanic.

“The phenomenal ability he had to perform this work just blew you right out of the water,” she said. “You don’t see that that often. It usually takes years of training.”

Mary Etta Miller, secretary at the Mason City Interstate Motors office, said she will always remember Winnes’ smile.

“You just didn’t see him without a smile,” Miller said. “He lit up the room.”

He was slated to marry his fiancee, Anna DiPuma, on June 14 and was excited to start a family, Miller said.

‘A prime example’

Sterling Pfenning said he met Winnes 3 1/2 years ago while they were both attending Riverland.

Though they were in different programs, they quickly became friends.

“He was fun, carefree, loved the Lord, loved people and had time for everybody,” Pfenning said.

Pfenning and Winnes eventually ended up attending the same church — Crossroads Evangelical Free Church.

Kaleb Hurley, associate pastor at the church, said Winnes established relationships with many people at the church and was part of several ministries there.

“James was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life,” Hurley said. “He loved God with everything he was, and he deeply cared about people. People felt they were his good friends even after they talked to him for just once.”

The pastor said he learned from Winnes’ demeanor and his gentle nature.

Friend Dalton Pagel said Winnes was a groomsman in his wedding a week ago.

“He was just a prime example in my opinion of how we should live — how us Christians should be going through life,” Pagel said.

Another friend, Steven Dickerson, said he will miss the funny things Winnes used to do to make people laugh.

“I’m going to miss hanging out with him,” Dickerson said.

A memorial service for Winnes will be at 11 a.m. today at Crossroads Church, 3402 Hoeger Lane, Albert Lea.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Evangelical Church of Peace, Freeburg.