Lee and Maureen James have always focused their time and energy on giving back, and they have been named the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Citizens of the Year for those efforts.
The pair, who have been married for more than 40 years, will be honored at the chamber’s annual banquet Feb. 24 at Cross Creek Resort for their “lifelong commitment to the community,” chamber executive director Susan Williams said Wednesday.
“Each year we invite the community to give us nominations,” Williams said. “We seek to honor one person, but often we find we have a complementary couple, like in this case. They go above and beyond, that’s really what this recognition is all about.”
Lee James, most recognized for his role as a state representative in the 64th Legislative District, never expected to be given such an honor, but he sees things differently for his wife.
“I’m not the least bit surprised that she has been named because she works hard every day for somebody who isn’t herself,” Lee said. “It is nice to be included.”
“I was just blown away,” Maureen James said. “I really appreciate that they considered us because there are a lot of people who are deserving.”
Maureen, who moved to the area in 1972 after originally living in Pittsburgh, was an art teacher for 36 years in the Oil City School District until she retired in 2007.
Growing up, she was taught to give back so not to take advantage of others’ hard work. As a result, she was motivated to instill that same mindset in her students.
“That is sometimes the only consistency the students would have in their lives, so you had to do what you could to be there for them,” Maureen said.
“Giving back is important for everybody,” Lee added.
The same line of thinking applied to raising the James’ three children.
“We wanted to be examples for our kids,” Maureen said. “We wanted them to see that you need to do things for other people.”
All their children appear to have taken the lessons from their parents to heart as their son, Kevin, is a major in the Army; their first daughter, Jaclyn, engages in volunteer work locally; and their youngest child, Kara, is an event planner in the Pittsburgh area.
For the past 18 years, Lee James has served as a member of Clarion University’s board of trustees in an effort to continue helping the younger generation.
“It is purely volunteer work and we have a good, sincere group where everyone works very hard,” he said. “We are delegates in the community too.”
Maureen has taken her love for the arts and used it for the betterment of the region.
“One of my real passions is the (National) Transit Building,” she said.
She is currently a studio artist for the Transit while also serving as a member of the revitalization and Graffiti Gallery committees.
In addition to her work with the arts, Maureen is also the acting secretary for Friends of the Library, has been the Oil Heritage Festival Committee queen candidate chairman and announcer for 35 years and serves as president of the Winifred Tonkin Guild, on top of much more.
Lee James got his start in volunteer work with United Way and remains active by being involved with Boy Scouts of America. He is also the former chairman of the Venango County Vocational Technology Center data processing committee.
The award being given to the couple has been given out since 1950.
Williams believes the Jameses are great additions to a collection of the community’s most influential people.
“I think it’s a great list of honorees and we are keeping pace,” she said.