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Have You Met Max F. James?

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Max F. James ascribes to the motto “Be a blessing to the innocent and those who protect them.” As Founder and Chairman of Camp Soaring Eagle Foundation, he, the Board of Directors, and the foundation staff offer children with life- threatening illnesses the chance to experience normal camp life and activities. “At each camp, a craftsman takes a tree and carves a totem pole out of it with an eagle on top. When camp concludes, the children form a circle around the totem, then their parents and the staff form another circle of love and protection around the children. It’s quite a moving ceremony!” In 2011 Camp Soaring Eagle hopes to bring 600 people to camp.

Max began his life as a Tennessee farm boy where his father was a share cropper. “We were the typical country story: no indoor plumbing, did our laundry in a fire pot outdoors, and of course no phone or TV, although we had electricity. I hated the farm, it was hard work and it seemed like we never finished. When I was thirteen my dad said ‘You don’t like the farm do you? I’ll make you a deal, you can do anything you want on two conditions: if you make good grades, and stay out of trouble’. Now that I look back, this was quite a sacrifice for him since he needed to hire someone to take my place on the farm.”

During his high school years Max lived in the small town of Humboldt, Tennessee, halfway between Memphis and Nashville. “I was employed in a dry goods store, sacked groceries, worked in a men’s haberdashery, and became a jack of all trades to earn some money. But I was also active in school, played basketball, ran track, and played the trumpet. I also was president of the student council, president of the band, and won a state debate title. During my senior year I became an administrative assistant to a congressman in Washington, DC. As we like to say in Tennessee, that was ‘real tall cotton’!”

Max finished his diploma by correspondence and was accepted by the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “When I was there the other cadets and I would say the program was like cod liver oil, good for you, but didn’t make it taste any better! Again, I applied myself, was president of the Cadet Officers’ Club, on the diving team, and editor of the student magazine, made the Dean’s List, the Commandant’s List and the Superintendant’s List. I graduated as a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel, got married soon after, flew in the Astronaut Recovery Program, and then volunteered for Vietnam.” James was in Southeast Asia a year where he followed fighter jets into North Vietnam, and picked up men for rescue from his helicopter. During his tour of duty he flew over 200 combat missions and was shot down twice. He was honored with many military awards, including three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his actions for courage under fire. “For the men I rescued, it was either the Hanoi Hilton or me, so they were really glad to see me! I pulled ten pilots out of the jungle, including one classmate of mine. After Vietnam I came home and was a combat instructor for a time, then went to the Stanford Graduate School of Business and earned my MBA.”

After graduate school Max James worked for--who was then considered the richest man in the world--a Saudi Arabian. “He had his own 727 and yacht. But the Saudi Arabian was a type of ‘merchant prince’ because he also did a lot of good for his country by setting up hospitals, housing, water treatment plants and helping with their agriculture. But one day I said, I’m not getting paid more than what it takes to run his yacht for a single day! I was buying and selling real estate for him all over the world, so I left and became the president of a real estate firm. Then I was named Chairman of the Salt Lake International Center, and eventually became a partner with Cecil Day of Days’ Inn. After being in the hotel business for a while, I invested with the nutritional supplement industry, including Metabolife.”

Today Max is the owner of American Kiosk and North American Kiosk with specialty retail operations in over 800 locations, along with owning the exclusive distribution rights for ProActiv skin care line. Max was named the first inductee into the Specialty Retail Hall of Fame. “My two children and my wife, Linda, helped me build the business, so we set up a family foundation, wanting to start giving back to the community. Over the years we wrote a lot of little checks, but then my son sent me to Orlando, Fl, to Camp Boggy Creek, one of Paul Newman’s Hole In the Wall camps, where seriously ill kids can attend a medically supervised camping program. We decided we could also do something like that. We concentrate on 3 major areas- send kids to various Hole In The Wall camps, and do weekend camps for up to 30 at a time at Jackpot Ranch. Finally, we hold family camping retreats at the Briar Patch Inn in Sedona where these unfortunate children, their parents and their siblings can have fun together and eat well.”

Recently, Max F. James was named the recipient of the Air Force Academy's Distinguished Graduate Award for 2010. This award recognizes “Academy graduates whose singular and distinctive contributions to our society and nation have set them apart from other graduates.” This truly was an appropriate award for a man who has served his country, became a success through American ambition, and is now a blessing to children through Camp Soaring Eagle.

What are your volunteer activities? US Air Force Academy and its Center for Character and Leadership Development, the Boys and Girls Clubs, Founder of Camp Soaring Eagle, St Jude's Children's Hospital, Steve Young’s Forever Young Foundation, and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Research Center.

Who inspired you to give back to your community? I have been tremendously blessed and strongly believe that when one gives it comes back tenfold.