by John Rosman
When the biggest soccer rivalry in the Northwest — maybe in all of Major League Soccer, some argue — reaches the 80th minute on Sunday, a song will grow from the Timbers Army in Providence Park.
The crowd will continue a 13-year home match tradition by singing “You Are My Sunshine” in the waning minutes of the match.
It’s part love song for the team and part memory for Hannah, the daughter of a man named Jim Serrill.
Serrill was Timber Jim, the mascot and beating heart of the Portland Timbers.
Courtesy of Allison Andrews
Jim wore work clothes, wielded a chainsaw and, under the lights, stood as a symbol of the state’s famous trade.
“Having a chainsaw at the games was a nod to the entire timber industry in Oregon,” he said. “Later climbing the spar pole … that was a nod to my dad.”
Serrill’s father took Jim, his brother and sister to their first soccer match. It featured Brazilian soccer legend Pele.
“It was one of the last things we did as a family with our dad,” Jim said.
Courtesy of Jim Serrill
His father died months after the match and the brothers started going to almost every home Timbers match in his memory. Jim fell in love with the spirit of the team.
He eventually made deal with the general manager to chainsaw slabs of wood after the Timbers scored a goal. At that game, he was introduced as Timber Jim.
Over the years, Timber Jim thrilled Portland crowds.
He hung from climbing lines, banging on drums and revving chainsaws. He shimmied up an 80-foot spar pole in the south end and lifted slabs of wood over his head with the same pride as if it were a championship cup.
He connected fans to an industry that built Oregon.
“Our state supplied building materials for the entire West Coast,” Serrill said. “That’s our heritage and I believe they need to be honored.”
In 2004, during a match against Minnesota, Jim was told he had to go home.
“They were all in the living room,” Serrill recalled. “I walked in a room full of state police, all my neighbors, all my friends — that’s when I found out. And it didn’t seem real. It’s real. She’s gone.”
His daughter Hannah, the youngest of three, died in a car accident. She was 17 years old.
“[My wife], Dianne, and I always felt like we should have died at the same time. That’s how you feel. I can’t describe it,” Serrill said.
When Timber Jim eventually returned, he shared a different part of his life with the Timbers community. He was a father in mourning.
“I felt like giving my daughter a tribute,” he said.
Holding Hannah’s daughter in his arms, he got up on the stand and sang to the sea of people in front of him Hannah’s favorite song, “You Are My Sunshine.”
The crowd started singing with him.
“And it stuck. They keep singing it every game. Probably sing it as long as there’s a Timbers team,” Serrill said.
Courtesy of Jim Serrill
For Jim, that song at the 80th minute eventually became a bittersweet tribute. It was a powerful reminder of the community that lifted him after the loss of his father and of the fact that his daughter was gone.
“It was rough. I would go under the grandstand and just cry,” Serrill said. “That’s not right. Those people were there to have a good time.”
Timber Jim passed on the chainsaw to Timber Joey in 2008 and retired. Serrill was later diagnosed with cancer and underwent seven weeks of radiation.
“I was mad as hell, and I just had to do something about it,” Serrill said.
The pain of losing Hannah and his career launched Jim into the next chapter of his life: volunteering.
In the afternoon, Jim tends to the community garden at the Tualatin United Methodist Church. He and a crew of volunteers built it in an empty field.
Timber Jim’s used his profile to sell merchandise like unique soccer scarves or seasonal beers to raise money for a variety of organizations like Meals on Wheels and Harper’s Playground. He’s donated thousands of pounds of food from the garden to the local food pantry and even started the Timbers Army CPR Program.
“It comes back, I can promise you that,” Serrill said. “You start helping other people your life is going to improve.”
In 2016, Jim gave a lecture at TEDxPortland.
He shared how dedicating himself to causes after losing his daughter helped teach him about the profound power of love.
“I believe loving people changed me. Love fixes things,” he said.
On Mother’s Day, Jim was promoting the newest “Spread The Love” soccer scarf. All the proceeds from this one go to the nonprofit newspaper Street Roots.
“Spread the Love” is Jim’s mantra. It comes back to Hannah.
“That was the most important thing in our relationship was love,” he said. “If you go around mad all the time, no one’s going to want to hang out with you.”
On special occasions, fans can still see Timber Jim on the stand and singing “You Are My Sunshine.”
Stretching the “Spread The Love” scarf in front of the sea of fans, Jim sang his daughter’s favorite song during a match on Mother’s Day.
Jim Serrill said he will always remember what came back to him after all his years as the heart of the Timbers: the love and support when he needed it the most.
As “You Are My Sunshine” spun faster and faster and the claps grew louder and louder, Jim kissed his hands and spread them out to his community before disappearing back in the stands.
Come Sunday, Jim Serrill will just be another fan rooting for the Timbers against their bitter Seattle rivals.
But when the match nears its end, at the 80th minute, the emotional tribute he sang to his daughter will once again echo across the stadium, as it has for the past decade, and as it possibly will for as long as there’s a Timbers team.