Volunteer Spotlight

Jim Nunally

There is nothing Jim Nunally can’t do. He has just cruised up to the maintenance shop at the China Camp Ranger Station on his beloved e-bike where he’ll spend the next three hours cutting firewood with a chainsaw. Earlier this year, he could be found on stage in Majorca, Spain, using the same strong hands to effortlessly play both banjo and guitar.
He’s as comfortable wielding a weed whipper as he is writing a folk song. And he enjoys rave reviews for his artistry and flexibility both in the world of music and as a super-volunteer at China Camp.
FOCC volunteer Jim Nunally shows off his log-splitting skills.

“I like to be versatile in my life,” says the 63-year-old troubadour. “I find a lot of things really interesting. I think it’s really important to go out in the world and explore.” 

And explore he has—from Alaskan glaciers to Vietnamese night clubs. Jim is a son of the South whose grandfather and father were sharecroppers and laborers who played the guitar. The Nunally family moved to the East Bay during the 1930s Dust Bowl, so it makes sense that one of the strong themes in Jim’s songs is the migration west. He and his partner, Nell Robinson, sing and play a wide range of music including folk, bluegrass, blues—what Jim calls Americana, a traditional, all-acoustic sound.

Although he’s never been far away from his musical instruments, Jim was born and reared in the East Bay town of Richmond, and spent 30 years working as a journeyman welder in the area. In more recent decades, he has concentrated on his music and volunteer work. He is an international performer, teacher, record producer. Jim has received two Grammy certifications honoring him for his guitar playing and for sound engineering.

For many years, Jim lived in the East Bay hamlet of Crockett. It’s there that he began to volunteer, doing maintenance for the Crockett Improvement Association. Because Crockett is an unincorporated area with no mayor or other civic officials, it’s a town where volunteers have always taken a very active role in the community.

These days, with his volunteering at China Camp, Jim says the park works a little like an unincorporated town. “Volunteers have a lot of say,” Jim notes. “It’s been really nice to be in that kind of environment, and to contribute to the community.” 

Jim began volunteering at China Camp on the eve of the pandemic in February 2020. These days, he works closely with FOCC board member and volunteer coordinator Joyce Abrams. 

“Jim is a true asset to our team in so many ways,” says Joyce. “I’m always amazed that someone with such delicate, sensitive hands can also be an expert welder. He can put in a post, work on a mud buggy, and fix the tread on a Ditch Witch. He does it all.”   

“I’ve always liked working with my hands,” says Jim, whose fingers show deep scars from many work-related injuries. “I’m glad I can volunteer—helping with trail work, fixing things…”

On his website, Jim shares some of his bedrock values: creativity, collaboration, fair wages, equity, and social justice. He dwells in a big world, but never forgets his roots. He is the fourth of five boys and is the father of a step-daughter. He dedicated his first CD to his mom; the disk is a collection of her favorite songs. “The people I most admire are my mom, my partner, and my brothers.” 

“I believe in the beauty and diversity and culture of the West Coast,” he adds. And in his singular connection to China Camp.—by Janet Wiscombe, FOCC Volunteer

Top Photo courtesy of Jim Nunally; Insert photo by Joyce Abrams.