Board Chairman of the Travis Mills Foundation James Shubert has had many successes in life and in business. His early years, however, wouldn’t have predicted that.
“If you’ve ever seen one of those movies where the teenagers hang out at the local carhop, race cars and motorcycles and skip class, then you’ve had a glimpse into my teenage years,” he said.
As a student University City High School in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1960s, the war in Vietnam was waging on. Jim knew that the only way an individual could get out of the draft, was by going to college.
“That wasn’t in my DNA, though,” he said, laughing, adding that college at the time wasn’t really an option. “I was a terrible student.”
“A counselor said to me, ‘Schubert, you’re going to get drafted,’” Jim recalled. “I said ‘No, I’m not. I already signed up.’”
To his mother’s dismay, Jim went to Vietnam – Jim’s father served in the Army Air Corps for six years during World War II and Jim supposes that his mother didn’t want that life for her son.
Despite that, Jim served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1970 and in the Army Reserves from 1972 to 1974.
“Boy, I saw things,” said Jim, who served as medic. “I grew up.”
Toward the end of his military service he felt ready to pursue a college education and enrolled at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He earned Bachelor’s degrees in economics and secondary education; his post graduate studies include an MBA from Olin School, a Master of Social Work, and Academy of Certified Social Workers accreditation.
He went on to pursue a career as a private investor, banker and venture capitalist and is an original investor in three corporations that went public or were sold to Fortune 500 corporations. Additionally, he and his wife, Linda, founded Shubert Design Furniture in 1980.
After college and establishing a successful career for himself, Jim thought he had put his military experience behind him. The furniture business, in fact, is what led Jim to become involved in the veteran community.
“I heard Gary (Sinise) talking on the radio and I had a moment,” Jim said, adding that the “moment” was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of wanting to help our country’s servicemembers.
Sinise is an actor, humanitarian, musician and founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which creates and supports programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen the veteran and first responder community.
Among other projects, the Gary Sinise Foundation builds accessible houses for injured servicemembers. Right then and there, Jim and his wife decided they’d contact Sinise and offer to furnish a house it was building in Missouri.
“I met Gary and he asked if we’d do another house,” Jim said. “Then we did another. We’ve done about 80 now.”
Sinise saw a desire in Jim to further serve veterans and asked him to be on the board of the organization. Jim accepted and now serves as treasurer in addition to serving on the board of the Travis Mills Foundation.
Jim remembers the first time he met Travis Mills; it was when the Gary Sinise Foundation built Travis and his wife Kelsey’s house in Manchester, Maine, in 2014.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to build a foundation to give back, to help out,’” Jim said. “I believed him right from the beginning.”
Jim, however, didn’t know he was to be part of Travis’s vision.
Fast forward to 2020. Jim accepted an invitation from Travis to join the board, just in time for the pandemic to affect programming at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat. Jim took that time to form a board that he knew would affect positive change and serve the organization well.
“Everybody brought different skill sets, but they all had one thing in common,” Jim said. “Passion.”
Meanwhile, the Foundation offered virtual programming for most of 2020 to the families who were supposed to attend the Retreat in person.
“It was a challenging year, but we got through it,” he added.
The next year, the Foundation welcomed back participants for in-person programming and fundraising flourished – $6.5 million raised in 2021 compared to $2.8 million raised in 2020.
“We view that as a team effort,” Jim said, noting that additional staff were added to the team in 2021. “I’m really proud of them – they live the mission.”
As for the future of the Foundation, Jim is excited that the addition of the new Health and Wellness Center in Summer 2022 will expand programming to be year-round.
“I also think it will help people realize that what we do here is not just recreational,” Jim said. “We help people get on a better path, balance their lives and get them through what can be a very challenging time, both physically and emotionally.”
“We also recognize the invisible wounds among our veterans,” he added. “The Warrior PATHH (Progressive Alternative Training for Healing Heroes) program that we offer is absolutely life changing for veterans with post-traumatic stress.”
What sets the Foundation apart from other veteran service organization, Jim said, is its dynamic leader.
“Here you have a guy who lost parts of all four of his limbs, and he refers to the experience as having a bad day at work,” Jim said. “At the end of the day, if we can make it so these veterans see some successes and make their lives better in some way, then we’re going to do a great job with the Foundation and something meaningful for our country.”