James Michael Thelen

June 2, 1945November 18, 2021

Befitting his fondness for the cinema, James (Jim) Thelen of Durham, North Carolina left the stage on November 18, 2021, setting course for his next act. Jim was born in Queens, New York on June 2, 1945, the third of four sons to Bridget Helena (Begley) Thelen and Joseph Francis Thelen. The streets, sidewalks, alleys, and stoops of Middle Village and the playground of Juniper Park outlined the idyllic backdrop for his happy childhood. School always came first in the Thelen home, as neither of his parents had the opportunity to finish high school; abiding his parents’ values, Jim graduated from Resurrection Ascension Catholic Grade School in Rego Park, Regis High School in Manhattan, Iona College in New Rochelle (B.S., 1966), and the University of Notre Dame (M.S., 1968), all with highest academic honors. From Notre Dame, Jim took a teaching position in the mathematics department at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York. From there, Jim moved to the mathematics department at S.U.N.Y. Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, where he stayed (and taught what seemed like half of Rockland County) until his retirement in 2008.

Together in Pearl River, Spring Valley, and Nanuet, New York, Jim and Barbara, his wife of 50 years, navigated careers, raised four children, made countless friends, served their communities, and earned immeasurable respect. The love Jim and Barbara have for each other, and their selfless commitment to loved ones, is the foundation for the many successes they, their children, and their grandchildren continue to harvest. Jim and Barbara have lived in North Carolina since 2015, toasting each evening with two simple, telling words: “to family”. There is no better postscript for Jim than that: “to family”.

Jim’s final scene in this act was more cinéma vérité than he deserved, as he and Barbara lost their son Matthew to colon cancer in December 2020. But Jim’s own graceful exit from the stage was as strong, selfless, and simple as he did his best to live, allowing him some deserved, peaceful time with Matthew in a place where the Mets, Jets, and Notre Dame win overall. As the intermission lights rise in the theatre of his life, his wife Barbara (née Deevy); children Kathleen Diamond, Kristin Edwards, and Michael; grandchildren Lily and Penelope Diamond, Liam, Catie, and Aidan Edwards, and Grace and Bluebelle Thelen; his brothers, sisters- and brothers-in-law, and his nieces and nephews; and his countless friends will rehash the adventures, quote the choicest lines, and wonder what magic Jim will bring to us in his next act. Until those house lights dim again, though, and the while the entr’acte plays, we’ll all do our best to follow his wisest teaching moment: “enjoy the experience”.

The family will privately celebrate Jim during this holiday season but funeral services will be held in the spring of 2022.

Donations in Jim’s memory can be made to The Fisher House ( or United Hospice (, both causes close to Jim’s heart.

Service arrangements are being handled by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, Saint Mary's St. Raleigh, NC.


  • The family will privately celebrate Jim during this holiday season but funeral services will be held in the spring of 2022


James Michael Thelen

have a memory or condolence to add?

Sam Caruso

December 7, 2021

I have too many fond memories at 5 Flitt St., and I am too sad to write them here, but I felt compelled to share the first one that came to my mind.

When I got mono my junior year at Nanuet High School I was out three weeks, and found myself hopelessly behind in Pre-Calculus. I asked your dad to help me, and it took him a little over one hour to completely catch me up, preview where the course was going next, and then digressed into building the quadratic equation backwards from one of the proofs we were doing.

Even more kind, during the session he told me I had a "mathematical mind", and he did so with a straight face.

My heart is always with you, in good times and in these,

Lynn/John Fogarty

December 4, 2021

Dear Barbara and family. Lynn and I have been thinking of you all and have been praying for your loving family to hold on tightly to each other during this difficult time. While the kids may not remember all of the New Year's dinners we spent together, they are wonderful memories that we revisit every year. May your hearts be filled with love and joy for having Jim/Dad in your lives. I know he was so proud of you all.

Our thoughts and prayers will stay with you all as we wish you The Peace of this blessed holiday season-

Sharon McCormack

December 4, 2021

Dear Barbara and family,

To this day, our favorite New Years Day was with you and Jim at John and Lynne Fogarty's. I always loved spending time with you both. Jim was always kind, warm-hearted and easy to talk to. I have thought about you both so often over the years. My heart goes out to you and your family at the loss of this wonderful man. Along with Matthew, the Thelan's are enhancing heaven even more.
Our hearts and prayers are with you all. God bless. ❤️

Bill Baker

December 1, 2021

Dear Barbara and family,
Please accept my sincerest condolences on the loss of Jim. Barbara as you know Jim and I taught for many years in the same division at Rockland Community College. I got to know Jim well when we co-founded the Math/Science Honors program, which after forty years is still going strong under the name:The Sam Draper Mentor Talented Student Honors Program.
His legacy will live on in the lives of the countless students he taught and mentored over his long career. May you and your fily find solace and peace during this holiday season.
Bill Baket

Kleo Girandola

December 1, 2021

Dear Thelen Family,

I am forever grateful for having met, learned, and laughed with Professor Thelen. He shared family stories in class and you could feel the love he had for his family. He also agreed to allow Sam and I to do an independent study for Calculus III and that's how we came to know each other so well. My pregnancy led to Matt going to the Olympics in Athens. I only have the fondest memories of both Professor Thelen and Matt, two amazing people that left this earth too soon.
I'm so saddened to learn of his passing and extremely sorry for your loss. My deepest condolences and sending lots of strength to your family.

With love,

Kleo Girandola

Melissa Daniels

November 23, 2021

Kristin and Family,
We are deeply saddened with your loss. Your family is in our thoughts and prayers. Please know we are here for you.
The Daniels Family