COCOA, Fla. – Jim Wallen’s tragic death has left a hole in his family’s lives as well as the larger Cocoa community where he had a great impact for most of his 75 years, his family said.
Wallen taught in Brevard County for 37 years and served on the Cocoa City Council for two terms, including as vice mayor. The veteran teacher taught English and economics but also worked with students with disabilities, according to his wife, and with adult education students helping them earn their diplomas.
“He was definitely an asset to this community and was loved by many people,” Lucinda Wallen said.
The couple shared a love of travel, visiting every continent around the world, even Antarctica. But his family said Wallen loved every adventure, even those around town.
“He just thought everything was the best, say we went to Melbourne and he’d say ‘That was the best trip ever,‘” Lucinda Wallen recalled. “We could have gone to Italy or China and he would have been just as happy going to Melbourne.”
Wallen was killed Aug. 21 when Cocoa police say a man broke into the family’s home on Manor Drive and encountered the 75-year-old. The suspect, and another woman accused of selling Wallen’s wedding ring taken from his body, were both arrested within 24 hours of the murder.
Wallen and his wife would have celebrated 52 years of marriage on Monday.
Surrounded by photos of their travels and family pictures in the couple’s longtime home, Wallen’s wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter said they will miss “just everything” about him and the circumstances around his death doesn’t make the loss any easier but they want him to be remembered for who he was, not how he died.
Brett Wallen said it will take a long time to adjust to the idea his father is really gone. The father and son bonded over sports and his daughter-in-law said Wallen was a devoted grandfather.
“I will miss terribly going to baseball games and football games with him,” he said.
Rainey Wallen, his granddaughter, will miss having him at her high school graduation later this year. She will also miss his laugh and the laughter he brought to his family.
“He made grandchildren laugh like nobody else,” his daughter-in-law Michelle Wallen said.
The couple hosted seven foreign exchange students at their home in Cocoa and kept in touch with them years later. After his death, former students, neighbors, community members and local politicians have shown an outpouring of support. Lucinda Wallen said people have been reaching out nonstop, reminding her how much her husband of 51 years meant to everyone he met.
“In this horror there is still a very redeeming fact that the community has been very helpful to us,” Brett Wallen said.
The 75-year-old was active in his church, loved god and volunteered with Meals on Wheels and other organizations.
Wallen’s impact was lasting even from the grave. One of his many former students investigated the crimes against him. Cocoa police Detective Chris Haddaway recalled taking Wallen’s eighth grade English class.
“He always had a smile on his face. He was very upbeat and kind and caring and compassionate to everybody,” Haddaway said.
The family thanked the Cocoa Police Department for quickly making an arrest.
“They went above and beyond,” son said. “They knew my dad, they cared about him. He was not another case file.”