Associate Spotlight – May 2018
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You know that feeling you get after eating a giant meal at Cunneto’s on The Hill? The one where you know you over-did it but every bite of that delicious Italian food was worth it? That’s kind of the feeling you get after talking to James Lee, a Maintenance Technician at West End Terrace in the Central West End.
James, the subject of our May Associate Spotlight, has been part of the Mills family for 12 years. He began working at West End Terrace in November of 2005 and will celebrate his thirteenth anniversary with Mills on November 15th of this year.
James tells me that working on the maintenance team gives him the opportunity to do things he loves, like working with his hands and using his tools, while experiencing those positive interactions with residents. While James may say that, the reality is probably more that having James as part of the Mills family is a treat for the company and the residents at the Central West End community.
Remember talking about the “full” feeling? You get it when talking to James Lee about his work history too. He started out working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant and then spent a decade at McDonnell Douglas. Like 5,600 other St. Louisans, the failure of the A-12 Avenger II program led to a career change for Lee in 1991. He spent several years working for a railroad company before returning to work briefly for Boeing.
After leaving that industry behind James went to work for another company in the multi-family industry, starting as a groundskeeper. After several years there, he made the move to Mills and West End Terrace.
Outside of Mills, James sounds even busier than you would think a grandfather of 13 would be. For 20 years he has volunteered with St. Matthew Grand Lodge, a masonic lodge in St. Louis City’s Ville neighborhood. Through that organization, James does charity work with several other organizations and also seeks to help area youngsters.
Children who grow up involved in the organization are known as trailmasters (boys) and sunbeams (girls). Several years ago, the organization was helping support 4 or 5 trailmasters and sunbeams as they made their way through college. As James has taken more of a leadership role with the organization, they have progressed to now supporting as many as 25 yearly.
James has already started working towards his next goal for the organization. He wants to outfit its community space with 6-8 computers so that the kids have something to do “other than get in trouble,” he says. He’s working now on a plan for the program with plans to move onto fundraising in the near future.
As if things weren’t busy enough for James Lee with working and volunteering, he will welcome his 14th grandchild later this year. He saw the oldest of his grandchildren graduate from Ranken Technical College earlier this year. The graduation might mean a little more money in his own lunch budget as his grandchild won’t be going to school close enough to come by and “borrow” lunch money.
Outside of providing the lunch money, James also is the de facto cook for all family functions and gatherings. His favorite dish to cook? Lasanga, which he learned to cook way back when working in that Italian restaurant. Don’t look for any store-bought sauce is his kitchen. Just as he takes pride in his various other endeavors, Lee takes great pride in making his own sauces.
If you’ve been looking for the secret to life, you should know that James beat you to it. Or should we say his 13 (soon to be 14) grandchildren beat you to it?
“They keep me young,” James says with a grin.
James Lee sure is a man of many smiles. His grandchildren make him smile. Seeing the residents of West End Terrace smile makes him smile. Italian restaurants make him smile and Longhorn Steakhouse knows how to bring a great big porterhouse of a smile to his face.
He’s a man who can dole out some great advice as well.
“If you keep your head up and do the best you can, people will recognize you for that. You just have to love what you do.”
Thank you for everything you do, James. Mills is lucky to have you as part of the family.