Wednesday, August 17, 2022

MSU alumnus Jim Higgins remembered by Spartan community

April 5, 2018
<p>Jim Higgins with Sparty at the Spartyball event in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Kevin Higgins</p>

Jim Higgins with Sparty at the Spartyball event in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Kevin Higgins

Since the 1960s, Jim Higgins held season tickets for MSU football. In 1990, he opened a bar for Spartans living in the heart of Chicago. For years, he was actively involved with a branch of MSU’s alumni network, the Chicago Spartans.  

He cooked at picnics for incoming MSU freshmen and donated to SpartyBall, an annual alumni fundraiser event that raises money for endowed student scholarships to MSU. 

And, like thousands of his fellow Spartans, Higgins knew well the chant of “Go green, go white!” 

Kevin Higgins recalled these pieces of his father’s life after news of Jim’s death made waves among members of the Spartan community. Kevin said that his father Jim, 73, died in the early morning hours of March 26. 

“It’s kind of surreal, still,” Kevin said. “I don’t even think it’s quite hit me yet.” 

He said his father had undergone heart valve surgery in December 2017 and entered into a rehabilitation period in the following months. A battle with a lingering bacterial blood infection caused Higgins’ health to deteriorate, and Kevin said his father had entered hospice a few days prior to his death.  

“It’s been hard in the last week,” Kevin said. “But he’s in a good place now.” 

MSU alumni organization Chicago Spartans, of which Higgins was an active member, released a statement on Facebook following his death. 

For Sarah Cantwell, vice president of the MSU Alumni Association, Higgins was one of the first alumni she met when she and her husband moved to the Chicago area in 2011. But before she took the job with the Alumni Association, Cantwell had been part of the Chicago Spartans, much like Higgins.

“I think when everybody thinks about Jim, he was everything that you think when you think of what it means to be a Spartan,” Cantwell said. “He absolutely loved Michigan State, he loved alumni, he loved current students. He really wanted to help in any way he could.”

Higgins was known for opening Higgins’ Tavern, a bar he established in the Chicago area for Spartans and non-Spartans alike. He described it as "a cozy neighborhood bar with a sports motif and great bar food,” according to the establishment’s website.

“It’s one of the hubs, one of the main Spartan bars in Chicago,” Cantwell said. “It’s great. You could always walk in there and if Jim was in, he knew exactly who you were when you walked in. It was definitely a sense of community, and that’s what Jim instilled.”

Matt Cantwell, Sarah’s husband and the current president of the Chicago Spartans organization, also recalled the impression he got when he first met Higgins. 

“Jim was a great guy,” Matt said. “He was just a true Spartan, you know, loved Michigan State, loved Chicago. He was just a genuine and very generous person.”

Matt said that Higgins’ contributions to the Chicago Spartans were numerous - they ranged from opening up Higgins’ Tavern to the alumni group to even donating Chicago Cubs tickets to SpartyBall’s silent auctions.

“Before Sarah and I met him, he was a member of the Chicago Spartans Board of Directors, so he contributed in that way,” Matt said.

Matt said that Higgins’ death greatly affected the deeply-rooted network that Higgins had built amongst his fellow Spartans.

“It was a great loss for the Chicago Spartan community,” Matt said. “He was a friend of many and of Sarah’s and mine, so it was difficult that he won’t physically be here with us anymore. It was very sad to hear. A lot of us are devastated by it.”

But Higgins' sons will be making sure their father's emphasis on community continues. In order to fulfill his father’s wishes, Kevin said he and his brother Tim will oversee a celebration of life at the Higgins’ Tavern on April 8.

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