Charles Doud/The Madera Tribune
James Maxwell, left, King Husein, center, and Brooke Ashjian share a laugh during a roast of Maxwell at the annual Boy Scout Distinguished Citizen dinner.
A philanthropist who operates farm-service companies in Madera and Fresno counties was honored as Central Valley Distinguished Citizen Tuesday night by the Sequoia Council of the Boy Scouts of America at a banquet for some 300 people at Pardini’s in Fresno.
Besides bestowing the annual honor, the banquet serves to raise money to send needy youngsters to Scout Camp. Some 3,500 are expected to benefit from the proceeds of the banquet.
Honoree James R. Maxwell, who founded Agriland Farming Co., Inc., in Chowchilla in 1990, was praised for his many acts of generosity and for a long record of service to Scouting.
Maxwell, who was reared in Fresno, participated in Scouting as a youth and later as an adult.
On this night, Eagle Scout Jim Maxwell turned 70.
As an Eagle, he was one of two such Scouts who welcomed Eagle Scout and Astronaut James Lovell when Lovell paid a visit to the city.
After high school, Maxwell enlisted in the military and trained with “the tip of the spear,” the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. Upon graduation, he was selected as Battalion Honor Graduate over a class of 1,135. He credits his time in Scouting, including the work it took to achieve Eagle Scout rank, with giving him skills to help earn his military recognition.
During his summers while going to college, Maxwell worked as recreation director at Grand Teton National Park, where he met his wife, Kriss. The two have four children and three grandchildren.
One of the speakers who helped roast Maxwell during the banquet made note of the fact that Kris was not on the list of distinguished speakers.
“Why isn’t she on the speakers’ list?” Maxwell was asked.
“She tells the truth,” Maxwell was said to have replied.
Maxwell earned an MBA from Fresno State, and within a week of his graduation joined the part-time faculty at the university’s Craig School of Business.
Agriland Farming Company, Inc., has grown from initially managing 1,800 acres to most recently managing 25,000 acres.
Companies that have been established by Agriland Farming include Agri Systems, Inc.; Pistachio Harvesting, Inc.; Agri Capital, Inc.; and Madera Ag Supply, Inc.
The company has grown to a full-time staff of some 275. It specializes in growing pistachios, almonds, walnuts, grapes and citrus. It is one of the largest nut producers in California.
An active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Maxwell has been bishop, or leader, of two wards (congregations). He also was a stake president for some nine years, which included construction of the Latter-day Saints Fresno temple.
He is vice president of the California Ag Leadership Foundation, on which he chairs the investment committee. He serves on the boards of the Central Valley Community Foundation, the Sequoia Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Madera County Groundwater Advisory Committee.
Among awards he and his company have received is one presented by the Migrant Worker and Head Start Program for leadership in promoting compassionate care of his employees and their families.
Other recognition includes:
• The U.S. Congress passed a resolution acknowledging Agriland’s contribution to the agriculture industry.
• The Madera County Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation acknowledging a wide range of service rendered to the citizens of the county.
• As part of its community outreach, Agriland has a 10-person community-service committee that for the past 11 years has provided thousands of Christmas dinners for the needy, and passing out truckloads of Christmas presents to families in need.
• Agriland has refurbished and upgraded parks, playgrounds and schools in Madera and Fresno counties.
• The company has provided awards and scholarships for academic excellence to the children of its employees. These awards begin at the seventh-grade level, and are designed to conclude with graduation from college.
In remarks he delivered after he was roundly roasted by family members and such friends as Firoz “King” Husein, president of Span Construction of Madera, and Brooke Ashjian, a former Fresno Unified School District board member, and longtime friend attorney Jeff Boswell of Fresno.
Maxwell explained the philosophies he learned from mentors and friends who no longer are living:
That philosophy is, if you give to others who need help, you wind up being helped yourself even more.
“What’s the point of prosperity if we can’t use it as a tool to improve the lives of others?” Maxwell asked his audience, who stood and joined in a long round of applause.