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James L. Akers Jr., arcade machine collector

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James L. Akers Jr., a retired financial analyst and businessman who collected and restored vintage arcade machines, died Wednesday of kidney cancer at his Ellicott City home. He was 73.

The son of a dentist and a homemaker, James Lee Akers Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised on Regester Avenue in Stoneleigh.

Herbert W. Dorsey grew up a few doors away, and they remained lifelong friends.

"It was a neighborhood of boys, and we naturally gravitated to his home because Jim had a pool table," said Mr. Dorsey, a retired Public Health Service officer who lives in Bethesda.

"He always had a reactive and inventive mind and was very low-key and was a very creative person," Mr. Dorsey said. "And he always had a wide range of interests."

Benjamin West, a retired General Electric sales manager who lives in Providence, R.I., was another Regester Avenue neighbor.

"Our mothers met in the maternity ward at Union Memorial, and we've been friends ever since," said Mr. West. "Jim was an incredibly loyal person when it came to his friends. He could be a character at times, but that is not all of him."

After graduating from Towson High School in 1958, Mr. Akers earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Pennsylvania State University.

From 1962 to 1980, he was a financial analyst in Washington for the Securities and Exchange Commission, analyzing securities, regulating mutual funds and financial instruments, and providing oversight for public utilities.

After leaving the SEC, he was director of economic policy analysis at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington from 1980 to 1984.

In 1984, Mr. Akers started a business, JLA Enterprises, which owned and operated Hercules Auto Parts, a wholesale and retail auto parts business on Frederick Road.

"It was the only drive-up auto parts business in the city, and he stayed open until 11 p.m., long after other auto parts stores had closed," said his wife of 10 years, Deborah Patton, owner of Patton Indexing.

In 1997, he took a job as a regulatory analyst for the Maryland Public Service Commission. In 1999, he became corporate group manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, where he evaluated mergers, acquisitions and the dispositions of electric utilities. He retired in 2007.

When he left the buttoned-up world of finance behind, Mr. Akers immersed himself in collecting and restoring vintage mechanical arcade games, collecting Egyptian antiquities, and decorating his home for Halloween and Christmas.

"His love of arcade games began when he visited Wildwood, N.J., with his family when he was a boy," Ms. Patton said.

Mr. Akers' collection included coin-operated pinball and slot machines, claw machines, punch boards, a Pachinko game and even a Booz Barometer, in which a player attempts to maneuver a hoop over a metal course without dropping it or making contact in a game that was called a "sobriety test."

"He was a funny and quirky guy. When I was growing up, our basement was filled with vintage arcade machines. And for the first 10 years of my life my birthday parties were held there, and all of my friends just loved it," said daughter Cathy Akers, a grant writer and artist who lives in Los Angeles.

"He loved going to the beach and beach arcades. One of his favorites was Fun Land in Rehoboth Beach. It is such a great slice of time," Ms. Akers said.

Ms. Patton recalled the time she came face to face with a claw machine, an arcade game in which the player tries to pick up a prize without dropping it.

"When we were first dating, we went to the old Zodiac on North Charles Street for dinner, Ms. Patton recalled. "The hostess says, 'Two?' and walks off. I follow. But when I went to sit down, Jim wasn't there. He arrived shortly with a big grin on his face. 'They have my claw machine.' 'Your what?' I said.

"I didn't know arcade games like he did. When his first marriage was over, he put his arcade games up for auction and the people at the Zodiac happened to buy it," she said.

"Jim loved arcade food, but he also enjoyed good meals, too," Ms. Patton said. "Fried oysters, shrimp and desserts were his favorites."

Mr. Akers had two favorite holidays: Halloween and Christmas. At Halloween, he would set up an elaborate haunted house in his basement where he hosted a costume party.

One of its features was a motion-activated Moaning Mummy that stood 6 feet tall, had moving eyes and emitted a spine-tingling and hair-raising moan when approached.

At Christmas, Mr. Akers would install a 9-foot tree in his home and decorate it with inherited 19th-century family ornaments.

"He'd also put on vintage Noma and bubble lights," said his wife. "Those trees were a work of art."

In retirement, Mr. Akers restored his circa-1856 Ellicott City farmhouse and traveled to England, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Hawaii and Aruba. He liked vacationing at the beach.

"He also amassed a significant collection of Egyptian artifacts and traveled to Egypt twice," Ms. Patton said.

"We're having a viewing from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Slack Funeral Home in Ellicott City," said Ms. Patton. "The Moaning Mummy will be there as well, and Jim will be wearing a galabiya, an Egyptian garment that is native to the Nile Valley, in the casket."

Mr. Akers was a member of Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles St., in Federal Hill, where funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Akers is survived by a granddaughter and two nieces. His marriage to the former Jerry Emma Pope ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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