BY LIZA STROUT - Jim Grant grew up in a simple, uncomplicated town.
“Saginaw, Michigan was the kind of place where you didn’t have to lock the doors. My dad owned Grant’s Grocery, which my grandfather started,” Jim said.
Jim’s first job was at the family business.
“I worked summers in high school and college in the grocery. I remember working 12-hour nights unloading 30 pound boxes of French fries,” he said.
Eventually Grant’s Grocery was sold to Sysco, during the initial formation of that company. His favorite subject in school was history.
“I love the history of the world, the history of the U.S., the history of war ... especially the incredible chemistry that produced World War I and World War II,” Jim elaborated.
Jim’s uncle was with the 101st Airborne, and the night before D-Day, he parachuted into what would become a cauldron.
“He shared his incredible experiences with me,” Jim said.
Jim was the commencement speaker at his high school graduation, with a class of 400.
His speech was “Dare to Make a Difference.”
It was a speech that he would follow during his career. Upon graduation, he attended Northwestern University and majored in accounting. After graduation, he went to work for a large accounting company and quickly came to a realization.
“I had just wasted four years. I couldn’t stand accounting,” laughed Jim. “So I went back to school, this time to the University of Michigan, and I graduated with my M.B.A.”
Jim used this degree to get into the world of marketing, eventually becoming a marketing executive in banking. He also became president of the Bank Marketing Association of America.
“I traveled all over the world, speaking to groups about bank marketing, and eventually internet marketing,” he said. “I would get off of a plane, give a speech then spend the night in a hotel and then get on another plane heading to my next speaking engagement. It gave me the chance to see so much of the world.”
At one point in his career, Jim spent years working for what would become Visa, setting up the credit card companies all over the world.
“I went in and helped to get them up and running in different areas. Visa Canada, Visa Asia, Visa South America. That was just airplane to airplane, I loved it. Of course I was a lot younger and my body could handle the constant travel much better,” Jim laughed.
Jim was there when the transition to internet banking occurred.
“The banking world was slow to catch on to the internet,” he said. “It was like pulling teeth to get them to put a website into everything. There was almost a fear of it. Today it’s remarkable what you can do online: check your balance, get your statement and see cancelled checks. Things have changed completely. ”
Jim’s mother was a housewife, raising Jim and his siblings. There were three children in total.
“I was the middle child. I had one of each. I had an older brother, who is deceased, and then my younger sister,” he said.
Though they live across the country from one another during the winter, Jim in Florida and his sister in California, their families reunite every summer in Michigan.
“We call it ‘Camp Grant,’ and we head there every year when we leave here,” Jim laughed. “It’s a 100-year-old home on the Lake, on a pretty good-sized piece of property. We spend the summer golfing and sailing, and just spending time with each other.”
When he isn’t relaxing and enjoying the family reunion or out on the water, Jim is acting as the president of the homeowners’ association. And just for fun, he hosts the annual fish fry.
“I invite the entire association. I do all of the shopping, the prep work and I spend the day doing the cooking,” he laughed.
Jim and his wife Lynda were introduced at a Christmas party in Chicago, though there was a delay between the initial meeting and their first date.
“We didn’t meet again for two years,” Jim said. “But when we did, we looked at each other and knew, and we started dating that day."
Jim and Lynda have three daughters. The oldest works for the Hyatt Corporation in Del Mar, California. The next works in Hollywood, writing for television shows. The youngest is a fifth grade teacher in Orlando. She is also the mother of Jim and Lynda’s - as yet - sole grandson.
Jim and Lynda arrived in Boca Grande in a rather Goldilocks fashion. They have spent 35 years in Florida, first in Sanibel Island and Siesta Key, for family reasons.
“It never quite fit, there were always little things in the back of my mind. They were absolutely gorgeous Florida places, but there was something …” mused Jim.
Eight years ago, Jim and Lynda came out to Gasparilla Island, and it was just right.
“There was never an issue, we had to come here, and it was instant love, “explains Jim.
Jim served as a director on the board for five years, prior to becoming president of the Barrier Island Parks Society, or BIPS.
“BIPS is a simple and straight-forward community focus to funnel volunteer and financial support to enhance visitor experience at our local awesome barrier island state parks. Their quality is a gift to us all,” he said.
This is, of course, the busy time of year for all of the nonprofits on the island.
“I was introduced to the organization by my good friend, Pete Durno, who was also a president of the society at one point,” he said. “We just had our Green Gala. Of course it’s still early, but it looks like we had a record event. We definitely had more people there this year. The people who come to the party greatly enjoy themselves. I know everyone jokes about Boca Grande midnight, but there were people at the Gala this year until after 10 p.m. They were having a blast.”
Jim has been working with his fellow BIPS directors on the ongoing Range Light project.
“It has been a 10-year bureaucratic headache, but we are making constant inroads,” he said. “Every time progress stalls on the other end, we just refocus and keep working. We hope and aspire to get both the facility and the land it is on turned over to the state. That way it can’t be developed, it will be preserved.”
Also on his plate is the continuing improvement of the park facilities on Cayo Costa. There are plans for a new sundry and gift shop and a museum showcasing the cultural and natural history of the seven mile long island, among other things. To top it off, Jim is a member of the Boca Grande Barbershop Chorus.
“One year, at the Lighthouse Lighting, someone heard me singing in the crowd and they invited me to join the Barbershop Chorus,” laughed Jim. “It was the most unexpected thing, being plucked from the crowd to become a performer."
And of course, Jim and Lynda support the other nonprofits on the island, whether with a donation or with their time.
“BIPS is the only one I’m on the board of, but all of the non-profits out here need help. So we buy tickets to fundraisers, and donate directly and volunteer our time and effort. The reward is worth it,” he said. “Part of the reason we love it here is because it is a true community, not a revolving door or a winter parking lot. We have met more good people and friends here in the last five years than we could believe possible."
Between seasons on Gasparilla Island and in Michigan, Jim and Lynda take cruises.
“It’s a great way to ease from one season to another,” said Jim. “We’ve been all over the world, from Asia to South America, it has been a blast,” he said.
But no matter how far they may travel, Jim and Lynda always return to their true poles, Michigan in the north, and Boca Grande in the south. Could there be a better compass?
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