Honors for decades of steady service in Blue Springs

By Debbie Coleman-Topi Special to The Examiner

James L. May joined his friend, Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross, in breaking a color barrier. Ross was the first Black person to serve on the city’s Board of Aldermen in 1981, and May followed, in 2008, as the first Black person to serve on any of the city’s boards and commissions. Ross, as mayor, named May to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

James L. May is the Truman Heartland Community Foundation Citizen of the Year in Blue Springs. [Submitted photo]

May recently was honored as the Truman Heartland Community Foundation’s Blue Springs Citizen of the Year, one of several Eastern Jackson County individuals and organizations similarly honored at the foundation’s annual gala last weekend.

May has spent the past 35 years living in and serving Blue Springs. He filled an unfinished term for a Blue Springs council member who was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives and, following an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the board, Ross said he told his long-time friend, “You’re not done yet” and appointed him to serve on the board of directors for the Economic Development Council.

May also has served as a planner on the city’s Out of the Blue, Into the Future, a citizen visioning board. A graduate of the Blue Springs Citizens Police Academy, he is also a member of the Citizens Academy Alumni and is an alternate board member of the city’s Board of Adjustment. 

He serves as chairman of the Blue Springs Land Bank Board, which is charged with repossessing homes and buildings with unpaid taxes and selling them. That way, the proceeds remain in Blue Springs instead of “being sold on the courthouse steps” as many cities do, Ross said. The mayor added he could think of no better person than May to lead the group.

“He’s kind of the brother I don’t have now, (following the deaths of Carson’s biological brothers). “He’s my go-to guy,” Ross said. 

In fact, since mayors are responsible for nominating their cities’ honorees, Carson said he should have nominated May earlier. 

“It kind of dawned on me,” Ross said.

The mayor wrote on his friend’s nomination form that he “has been at my beckoning call every time I needed someone to serve…” The friends further bonded when they supported each other through their spouses’ journeys with Alzheimer’s “with both our wives succumbing to this terrible illness,” Ross wrote.

May has had a busy career. In 1986, he was named the area’s regional sales manager of the newly formed Missouri Lottery. He said the experience was ripe with new challenges and his team paved the way for the organization’s future.

A Vietnam veteran who served two tours of duty on a guided missile destroyer, May said he learned about mechanics as a teenager when he and his friends used to help each other work on their late 1950s cars. That is when he was surprised to discover he was mechanically inclined. He earned a bachelor’s degree before landing a job as an electronics technician for Xerox. During that era, the 1970s, May said he took more classes to hone his craft.

“I’ve done more school than most folks,” he said. 

May has held so many positions in so many related fields that “it’s hard to keep track,” the 72-year-old said. Early in his career, he owned an office supply store but closed the business after the advent of big-box stores such as Office Depot and Office Max. In 2008, May said he launched a real estate career.  

He and his wife, Maxine, who died in 2018, moved to Blue Springs about 35 years ago and he found it a welcoming community that has played a prominent role in his life.

“There’s a lot of movement here,” he said. The father of two and grandfather to three proudly touted the city’s reputation as “one of the most livable” in the country and he emphasized it is not just opinion. To prove it, he added, “there are a lot of statistics.”