Local residents, area leaders mourning the loss of Atwater’s Jim Heller
Community members are mourning the loss of Jim Heller — a native son, a member of a local family legacy that dates back to 1917, and a popular elected leader with a remarkable record of service.
Heller passed away on Saturday, July 9, at the age of 84.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Merced County Board of Supervisors adjourned their regular meeting in honor of Heller, with leaders commenting on his longtime service in Atwater and the importance of the Heller family as founding fathers of the town.
Many longtime residents associate the Heller name with the town’s first pharmacist, E. A. “Pop” Heller, and the family drug stores that operated for decades in downtown Atwater and Winton. Jim Heller was the grandson of Pop Heller, and would become known for his civic service — particularly as the City of Atwater treasurer for 52 consecutive years. This run in public office became a record as the longest tenure of any elected official in the state of California.
1938 — 2022
James (Jim) Walter Heller was born in Merced on June 27, 1938, son of Jim Sr. and Peggy Heller.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Barbara, his three sons, Jim III (Kathy), Randy (Diana), and Chris (Amy), 7 grandchildren, Spencer, RJ, Nicole, Joshua, James, Lindsay, and Sophia, and great grandson James Harvey, brother-in-law Caesar Muratore, and sister-in-law Dorella Heller.
Jim’s brother, Brian, passed away in 2009.
Jim grew up in Atwater and graduated from Merced High School in 1956. It was during this time he met Barbara and they married in 1959. Jim studied accounting at Golden Gate College in San Francisco before returning to work at the family-owned Heller’s Rexall Drug store in Atwater. Jim retired from Silveira Petroleum in 2000.
Jim’s work in the community and civic service was integral to his daily life. He served as the President of the Atwater Chamber of Commerce from 1963-1964, and President of the Atwater Rotary Club for two years in 1969 and 1971. Jim’s commitment to the Rotary organization was evident in his 55 years of perfect attendance. Jim’s grandfather, E.A. Heller, was a charter member of the City of Atwater organization.
Jim was appointed as City Treasurer of Atwater in 1968 to fill a vacancy. He was elected to the position shortly thereafter and served in that capacity for 52 years, which is the longest tenure of any elected official in the state of California.
Jim also organized a poker group that met and played once a month. He enjoyed fellowship with his friends.
Most of all, Jim loved his wife Barbara. Jim and Barbara watched and attended almost every game that their sons and grandchildren played or participated in. Jim also enjoyed gardening and cutting/obtaining wood for his winter fires. In lieu of flowers, the family requests any remembrances be donated to the City of Atwater Parks and Recreation Department for the maintenance of Heller Park.
Family and friends are invited to attend mass at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church on Tuesday, July 19, at 1 p.m. A celebration of Jim’s life will be held at the Italo American Hall immediately following the service. The Italo American Lodge is located at 1531 W. 18th Street, Merced. Jim will be laid to rest in a private ceremony in the Winton Cemetery. Arrangements entrusted to Wilson Family Funeral Chapel of Atwater.