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James S. 'Jim' Whitfield lived a life dedicated to leadership and service to America's veterans and training young leaders. The Whitfield Leadership Center continues his legacy and life's work by providing leadership education and training to the next generation of America’s leaders.
Located in Warrensburg, Missouri adjacent to the University of Central Missouri campus it serves as an educational center, a gathering place, and an archive to house memorabilia from Jim Whitfield's extraordinary life of service and leadership. It is also home to the Gary Ervin Library housing top leadership books and resources.
The Center’s educational programs include small group leadership training for college students, non-profit organizations and local community groups.
The Center and our partners are developing a Leadership Lecture Series, a Resident Scholar program, and an Annual Leadership Awards program for the Warrensburg and Johnson Countiy, Missouri community.
To learn more about the leadership education and training programs of the Whitfield Leadership Center please contact us by using the email link below.
Gene Reed, Commander
Matt Dameron, Esq., Exec Director
Michael Plunkett, COO, Payit
Gen. Larry Kay, Exec. Director
Eric Endsley, Administrator, Warrensburg
Jim McNamara, Founder & Chairman
Tom Burchett, Founding Treasurer
Jon McCarty, Founding Secretary
Dr. Tony Fusaro, Education Advisor
Coach Mike Hagerty, USA Wrestling HOF
Dr. Charles McGraw, Education Advisor
Dr. Mike Nichols, UMSL
Dr. Danny Tipton, Hogan Prep
Michael Callaway, Exalted Ruler
John Sheehan, President
James Seymour 'Jim' Whitfield was born in Warrensburg, Missouri January 12, 1926 and literally devoted his life to serving America's veterans and his community.
It was a sense of duty and patriotism he came by at an early age. "My grandfather and father had a dairy, I was the delivery boy, so I became acquainted with a number of World War I veterans because we delivered milk to them. I was enthralled with the idea of how these men had been in France. I remember one talking about his tour around Château-Thierry, where a lot of Missourians were during the war. It was always a pleasure to meet and talk with these men. I respected them because they had served our country, and that was important to me, even as a kid."
One sleepy December Sunday in 1941 shortly after the lunch rush 16-year-old Jim Whitfield sat on the curb in front of his father's restaurant, the Cull and Whtifield Cafe on Culton St. in Warrensburg. Nearby radio suddenly crackled with the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Without a second thought, the high school junior knew he had to answer the call to duty.
Two weeks after receiving his high school diploma, the 17-year-old volunteered to join the Navy. After boot camp in Farragut, Idaho, Jim was assigned to the advance detail of a troop transport ship the General George O. Squier, named after a World War I general.
He recounts; "I ended up being on the ship 33 months. Because it was a troop-carrying ship, I got to the States once in a while, but there was always a quick turnaround. We were in the South Pacific for a few months and took troops into New Guinea and other areas. Then we transferred to the Atlantic reinforcing troops in Europe." As part of a convoy, the Gen. Squier safely zigzagged across the Atlantic Ocean to avoid the menacing German subs. Though his ship was never attacked, Jim knew the U-boats were there. At night, "the ship would shake because our escorts were dropping depth charges on subs they could hear", he recalled.
"We were also involved in the invasion of southern France... and we were in the second or third wave of reinforcements on the D-Day invasion of Normandy," he recalls. "The troops went down the sides on rope ladders to get into the landing crafts. Battleships were on the other side of us, and we could hear their projectiles over our heads going into the beach", he recalled.
As a navigation quartermaster, Jim corrected charts for navigational purposes, kept the ship's log and stood watch on deck with the Officer of the Day. But those weren't his only duties." My general quarters station was that of helmsman of the ship," Jim says, noting he followed the captain's orders on where to steer the ship.
Jim also knows where he was on V-J Day when the war ended,, calling it the most memorable day of his life; "Our ship was in the Caribbean one day east of the Panama Canal headed for Japan ... We were moving all our troops out of Europe directly to Japan for a heavy invasion." The Squier, though, never made it to the Canal. With the unconditional surrender of Japan, the ship was ordered to sail for New York.
Jim says the three years and seven months he spent in the Navy "permanently ingrained my patriotism."
Upon his discharge from the Navy, Jim immediately joined American Legion Post 131 and enrolled in Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg. Both would shape his life for the next 70 years.
"Through the dairy, I had gotten acquainted with A.C. “Gus” Bass, who went on to become state commander of the American Legion. When I got out of the Navy, he was president of Citizens Bank in Warrensburg and encouraged me to keep my GI insurance. If I needed a couple hundred bucks, I could go see him.
He was instrumental to my early Legion career. In fact, the World War I guys elected me post commander when I was still in college. They helped me a lot. Whatever success I had, they made it happen. They were genuine people – very patriotic, very community-minded", Jim recalled.
These veterans of World War I were his friends, his mentors, and the guys who told his father that “Jimmy” needed to be part of The American Legion. They were the generation that started it all, and to lead the organization they founded is “a hell of a responsibility,” Whitfield says.
Over his lifetime Whitfield served in many capacities at the post, district, department and national levels of The American Legion eventually serving as Executive Director of the American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.
In 1988 he was appointed by then American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger as the Legion's representative to the National World War I Centennial Commission.
Whitfield also served as the first chairman of the Missouri Veterans Commission, serving for a total of 10 years on the Commission. During his tenure as Chairman the Missouri State Veterans Home system of seven homes and the State Veterans Cemetery system were established. Eventually his hometown of Warrensburg was selected as a location for a Veteran's Home.
Overall Jim served the Legion as a devoted member of Matthews-Crawford Post 131 in Warrensburg, MO for 70 years. In recognition of his lifetime of untiring service Whitfield was awarded the title "Honorary Lifetime Commander" of the Missouri Department of the American Legion in 2000. This honor had been given to only three other men, including former U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
"The World War I vets who shaped me as a young man were good solid Americans who did their duty to make the world a better place, and they expected me and my generation to be the same," he recounted.
Jim embraced this expectation wholeheartedly and devoted his life to not only serving the American Legion and American's veterans, but multiple organizations throughout his local community.
During his college years Jim became a member of another organization that would mold his life. In 1946 he joined Phi Sigma Epsilon and served his fraternity with outstanding devotion for the next 70 years. Whitfield founded the fraternity's Alumni Club in 1953 and raised the first funds which would years later help fund the Whitfield Leadership Center. He twice served as the National Grand President of the fraternity and led the largest merger in the fraternity world when Phi Sigma Epsilon and Phi Sigma Kappa merged in 1985. The chapter named their main room in honor of Jim and for many years the Senior of the Year has received the Whitfield Award.
While at Central Missouri Whitfield also devoted himself to the betterment of the school, a commitment that would last for th erest of his life. He was President of the student body and helped other WW2 vets enroll as Veterans Affairs Coordinator for the University and the VA. As a senior he received the University's highest undergraduate award, the George Charno Student Citizenship/Leadership Award.
He was also a Lifetime member of the Warrensburg Elks, the VFW, and started the Warrensburg Jaycees serving as its first president.
Jim continued to serve veterans and their families right up until the time of his death as Western Area Suprervisor in the Missouri National Guard Office of Missouri Military Funeral Honors. From his office in the National Guard Armory in Kansas City, Jim was responsible for providing funeral honor guards for veterans in 50 western Missouri counties. The program which Whitfield drafted the original amendment for provides funeral honors to over 9,000 veterans a year in Missouri.
Over a span of 70 years Jim Whitfield led a life of service and provided leadership to a wide range of organizations. His devotion to serving America's and Missouri's veterans is unprecedented. His service to organizations that shape the leaders of tomorrow brought him great joy through those years.
And it is this legacy, and continuing his lifelong work in this area to which the Whitfield Leadership Center is devoted.
Jim spent a lot of time working with youth and making opportunities available to them through three organizations in particular; Phi Sigma Kappa, American Legion Boys State, and the University of Central Missouri.
The common threads in all his work were; ensuring a strong foundation and viable future for education and leadership training.
Whitfield's service to the American Legion's Missouri Boys State program is unsurpassed. Boys State annually serves high school seniors from across the state providing leadership training to thousands of young men over the years. From 1956 to 1959 Jim served Boys State as City Counselor being named Dean of Counselors in 1959. Under his direction, the staff of Boys State took a pro-active approach to teaching the principles of democracy to the young men who participated in the Boys State program. As Dean, Whitfield wrote the first counselors handbook still in use today. In his over four decades of service to the program, Whitfield was at the center of every major decision affecting the program and was instrumental in helping grow the program into a youth leadership program of national prominence. He was instrumental in Boys State choosing Central Missouri State as their permanent home.
In 2001 in recognition of his contributions Whitfield was given the distinction of having a Boys State City named in his honor, becoming the first Boys State leader outside of the four founders to be given that honor. He was inducted into the Missouri Boys State Hall of Fame in 1988. Jim also served as one of the original trustees of the A.B. Weyer Memorial Trust created to ensure the future financial stability of Boys State. In 1989, he was named Chairman of the trust.
Whitfield served the University of Central Missouri for many years sitting on the governing boards of their Foundation and their Alumni organization. He was a recipient of the University's Distinguished Alumni award.
In October 2016, while attending his last Phi Sig fraternity function, Jim was honored for the lifetime impact he had on thousands of young men's lives when he was awarded the Founder's Award by Phi Sigma Kappa. The award given to alumni who create a lifetime legacy was inspired by Jim's founding of the Alumni Club in 1953 and his continuous service over almost 70 years. Fittingly, the award was a statuette of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, representing Jim's foresight and devotion that provided stability to the organization for near seven decades.
When asked what motivated his exemplary lifetime of brotherhood Jim simply stated; "This fraternity, along with the military and the American Legion, changed my life, it helped make me who I am, I just want to make sure the same opportunity exists for others too."