Why I Give: James Maxymillian ’56


A Lifetime of Making a Difference

For more than six decades, James Maxymillian ’56 has closely followed the financial health of Williston, parsing the school’s annual reports, noting the past tough times with concern, and celebrating the more recent successes. And all through that period—over the course of 62 years—he has steadily supported the school, with gifts that, taken together, place him among Williston’s most generous benefactors.

“I love to see the school healthy,” explains James, whose son Neal is also a Williston graduate, class of 1983. “I want the school to do well.”

The founder of J. H. Maxymillian, Inc., a Berkshire-based company that specializes in large-scale construction and infrastructure projects (including the spring 2010 dredging and restoration of Williston’s campus pond), James earned his engineering degree from Yale University and his master’s in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But none of that would have happened, he says, if not for Williston—and a powerful incentive in the form of a used car.

As a young man growing up in North Adams, James was drawn to motorcycles and other machines he could tinker with, less so to his studies at Drury High School. When he graduated near the bottom of his class, his guidance counselor refused to send his transcripts to any colleges, “which was fine with me,” says James, “because I didn’t really have any aspirations.” His mother, however, had other ideas. If James enrolled as a post-grad at Williston and kept up his grades, she’d give him her old Jaguar. “She hit the right button,” says James. “And Williston had quite an effect on me.”

Back then, post-grads enrolled for two years, and the newly motivated James soon discovered that with the right guidance and instruction style, he could succeed in the classroom as well as the shop. “The whole culture of the school was very supportive and not dictatorial,” he says. “That helped me a lot. If it hadn’t been for them, I’m not saying I would have wound up bad, I just would have not been much of a contributor in life. Who knows where I would have wound up?”

As it turned out, he wound up at Yale, where his Williston track experience earned him a spot with the Bulldogs, and then at MIT, where he was hired as track coach, a job that paid his way through graduate school. (His appreciation for physical fitness has stayed with him ever since.) He still supports Yale and MIT, he notes, along with numerous other local causes and his children’s schools, “but I support Williston more. My experience at Williston was more formative than at any of the other schools.”
“Williston gave me two great benefits,” he explains. “It straightened me out in life and it opened doors. My life has been very easy since Williston. That’s probably one of the big reasons I’m very aware of giving back. My goal is to help Williston stay strong, which is about the best you can do for a school.”

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