On 22 July 1973, James Staib McNeely, IV was born in Sioux Falls, SD to Jim and Lynda (Merrill) McNeely. After his parents' divorce at the age of three he moved with his father to Mission, SD on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. As a child he would move several times as his father's medical career progressed, living in several places in South Dakota and metro Chicago. In 1989 the family moved to Murdo, South Dakota where James finished the last three years at Jones County High School, with a graduating class of 19 in 1991.
After high school, James enrolled at Dakota State University where he was active in the varsity Cross Country, Track, and Tennis programs and Student Senate and was twice elected President of the Student Association. After completing his sophomore year, he decided to enlist in the US Army during which time he served active duty, reserve and National Guard units over the course of eight years. He primarily served these units in communication positions and was the company communications NCO in combat engineer and air assault companies. After completing active duty, James returned to school and graduated from Dakota State with a Bachelors of Business Administration with concentrations in management, finance, and information systems and a minor in history. In 2010, James was inducted into the Dakota State athletic hall of fame with several of his Cross Country teammates.
In 2005, James decided to use his finance, technology and insurance knowledge by setting out on his own and has been self-employed since then working primarily with small business owners as a sales and marketing consultant occasionally taking on long-term projects such as sales manager for the Minnesota Stars (now Minnesota United FC) professional soccer team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
In May of 2001, Brother James was raised a Master Mason in Star in the East Lodge #33, in Owatonna, MN. In May 2003, he was elected and installed as Master, serving again as Master in 2006. In 2008, James was presented with the Jerry Sebring Award, which is his lodge Mason of the Year award.
MWB Andrew Rice appointed James as the GL District Representative for District 25 in 2005 and served until 2007 when he was appointed Area Deputy for the Southeast Area of Minnesota which included five districts and 32 lodges and served until Grand Lodge 2010. In 2011, James was again appointed an Area Deputy, by MWB Tom Hendrickson, for the MetroWest area which included six districts and 38 lodges. He served as Area Deputy until resigning prior to moving to Connecticut. In 2012 James received the Hiram Award, from his Lodge, which is the highest award authorized by the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. He has also served as Master of Educational Lodge #1002 in Minneapolis where he served a two-year term, from 2010 through 2011. Currently a member of Washington Lodge #70 and Hospitality Lodge #128 in Connecticut. In 2021 he was appointed as District Deputy by MWB William Bohman.
Companion James started both his Capitular and Cryptic Masonic journey during a one-day festival in April 2002 becoming a member of Owatonna Chapter #15 and Northfield Council #12. Upon moving to Connecticut, James joined Pythagoras Chapter #17. In April 2016, he was elected as High Priest of Pythagoras. MEC David Abrames appointed James to the Grand Chapter in Connecticut. Where he progressed through the line until being elected and installed Most Excellent Grand High Priest in June 2018. In 2017 he was presented with the Ephraim Kirby award from the Grand Chapter and in 2018 he received the General Grand Chapter Distinguished Service Medal in Bronze. In 2017 James was appointed to serve as the General Grand Chapter Ambassador to Connecticut and was re-appointed in 2020. In 2020 selected to receive the General Grand Chapter Distinguished Service Medal in Silver by MEGGHP Jim Hodge.
Within Cryptic Masonry James served in various appointed positions for several years within Northfield Council. Due to the distance to Northfield Council, in 2008, James and several other companions decided to form a new council in Owatonna. Dispensation was received in June 2008 for Ark Council, UD with James as the appointed Illustrious Master. Upon chartering in 2009 he was elected the first Illustrious Master of Ark Council #3. During this period the council quickly grew and has continued to grow every year since it was founded, with several years of double digit growth. James was also received into the Order of the Silver Trowel and progressed through the officer line and served as Thrice Illustrious Master in 2012/2013. Since moving to Avon, James joined Wolcott Council #1 and was elected TIM in 2014. Most Puissant Grand Master Mike Seamon appointed James as the Grand Marshall of the Grand Council in 2015 and the following year was appointed by MP j. Andrew Birdsall as Grand Sentinel and progressed through the chairs. In 2017 he was awarded the Philip J. Jones award for service. In 2021 Companion James was elected and installed as the Most Puissant Grand Master of Connecticut.
SK James was knighted on 7 December 2002 in Cyrene Commandery #9 in Owatonna, MN. Over the years James served in various offices and was elected Commander in May 2007 and served two years. During these two years Cyrene Commandery completed two full sets of orders, the first in twenty plus years. The Commandery also started holding an annual Christmas Observance. For service to the Order, he was presented the Knight Templar Cross of Honor by the Grand Encampment in 2009. Also, in 2009 James was elected to Grand Junior Warden of the Grand Commandery of Minnesota. In 2012 James was created a Knight Commander of the Temple by the Grand Encampment. He progressed through the line, reaching Grand Generalissimo when he relocated to Connecticut. Upon moving to Connecticut, James joined Washington Commandery #1 where he has served as President of the Past Commanders Association and is active in the work of the Orders. In 2016 he took a dual membership with Cyrene #8 where has since served as Commander. In 2015 he was elected Grand Junior Warden of the Grand Commandery of Connecticut. On April 18, 2020 SK McNeely was elected and installed as the 193rd Grand Commander.
Brother James is also a member of the Valley of Minneapolis, A&ASR where he served in the progressive officer line for the Lodge of Perfection prior to moving. He was active in degree work in several of the Valleys in the Orient of Minnesota and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society. He is also a member of Zuhrah Shrine and served as a board member of the Owatonna Shrine Club and on the Circus committee. Other Masonic affiliations include: York Rite College - Past Governor of Connecticut College and recipient of the Order of the Purple Cross (2018), Allied Masonic Degrees - Past Sovereign Master of Nathan Hale Council, Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priest - currently an officer of Apostles Tabernacle, Knight York Cross of Honour - currently an officer, Knight Masons - Past Excellent Chief of Mohawk Council, Red Cross of Constantine - currently an officer of St. Andrews Conclave, SRICF - currently Celebrant of Connecticut College, Commemorative Order of St. Thomas of Acon - currently an officer of Nutmeg Chapel, Royal Order of Scotland, and Universal Craftsman Council of Engineers.
During his Masonic journey James has served two Masonic youth groups as an adult leader. He was on the council that re-established Owatonna Chapter DeMolay and served until coming to Connecticut. He was also very active in Job's Daughters serving many years on the local Bethel Guardian Council as wells as being elected to serve on the Grand Guardian Council of Minnesota. In 2008 James was elected to serve as the Associate Grand Guardian of Minnesota Job's Daughters.
In the spring of 2007 James met Anne User while she was working for GE Water in Minneapolis. After a four-year courtship which saw them travel the country and world separately and together, they wed in 2011. In 2012, Anne was offered a position at UTC in the corporate office and the McNeely's made the move to Connecticut where they make their home in Avon. Living in New England has provided them with a slower pace of life and unique opportunities. Winter finds them in Vermont skiing, taking in shows at the Hartford Stage, Hartford Symphony, and Connecticut Forum and snowshoeing. Summers are spent hiking, taking in minor league baseball games, eating lobster at Abbotts, listening to music at the Talcott Mountain Music Festival, and swimming. In December 2017 Anne and James travelled to China to adopt their son James "Jack." Together Anne and James continue to travel and are always planning their next trip together as well as with family and friends as well as chasing after their son.
Installation Address of the M.P. Grand Master
It truly is a blessing to have the opportunity to serve this Grand Council at this time. I am surrounded by men who I highly respect and we have a team of Grand Officers that want to work to help move all of our Councils forward. And I would be remiss if I didn't thank Mike Seamon and Andy Birdsall for this opportunity but also for being here today for this installation. I had the pleasure of serving as Grand Marshall for Mike and Andy appointed me to the line; it is only fitting that you both are beside me today.
One thing that you will hear a lot of this year is it is time to "rebuild the rite." This past year plus has forced us to pause much of what we have always done and really think about how we need to work together to move forward. Our newly installed Grand Officers have been working over the past several months to find that path forward. We will do this by encouraging Open events by the Councils, Festivals to help with the degree work, seminars to help not only the officers but all Companions, increased and improved communication with all Companions, and continued support of educational activities.
All of these events and activities are geared to helping our Councils with their membership not only from a recruitment stand point but also with retention. While we cannot control the involuntary membership losses we can work to retain and re-engage our current members as well give those that have left via demit or NPD a reason to rejoin.
One item that we will encourage each Council to hold is a Table Council and invite Master Masons and Royal Arch Masons to attend. Let's show them why they should be a member of your Council. But not only will we encourage Councils to hold these types of events but we will be there to help and support you as needed. We need all of our Councils to be successful and we are willing to be of service to help you.
Lastly, I could not do any of the things that I do within Masonry were it not for the support of my family and most especially Anne. She not only supports what I do but there are many times when she is asking "don't you have some place to be tonight?"
Until I see you down the road…
M.P. Grand Master