C. Gilbert James Jr. leaves a lasting imprint on Valley

Mention virtually any vital and valued institution in the Mahoning Valley, and chances are strong that one compassionate, civic-minded, savvy and generous businessman from Canfield had a hand in its success.

From the Butler Institute of American Art to the Canfield Fair, from the Youngstown Historical Center to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and from the YWCA to YSU, C. Gilbert James Jr., known affectionately by many as “Gib,” devoted much of his time, talent and resources to fortifying a wide array of arts, cultural, economic development, education, historical preservation and other noble causes in the Valley.

Today, we join legions of others in our community in mourning the passing of Mr. James , who died peacefully at age 93 at his home Friday night, and in reflecting on the monumental impact he made toward bettering the quality of life for all in our region.

We suspect the lines at Gib’s calling hours Thursday at the Fox Funeral Home in Boardman and at his Mass of Christian burial Friday at St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown will be packed to the gills with the many individuals he’s touched and assisted over the past nine decades.


In the business world, he served as a longtime workhorse at the successful James and Sons commercial insurance agency in Boardman that was founded by his father 98 years ago. He and his family also established Forge Industries Inc. from the remnants of two brewing companies in Akron and Youngstown. He built on that success to create the global supply-chain company BDI and other successful enterprises.

Gib also was front and center for decades in the Valley’s signature summer event, the Canfield Fair. He had served on its board of directors since 1966 and three years ago, his contributions to the fair’s growth and success were rightly recognized when bustling Gate 7 of the fairgrounds was renamed permanently in his honor. Mr. James also sparked development and expansion of the fair’s popular Western Reserve Village.

Gib’s service, compassion, industriousness, dedication, business acumen and philanthropy to the Canfield Fair, however, serve as but a microcosm of his selfless contributions to a wide spectrum of causes that have strengthened the fabric of life for all in our region.

James was an enthusiastic connoisseur of the arts and built a longstanding reputation for generous support to the Valley’s vibrant arts community. He has served on governing boards and in hands-on roles at the Youngstown Playhouse, the Butler Institute of American Art and other cultural venues in the Valley. Indeed he has requested that memorial contributions in his name be made to The Butler.

He’s also long shared his success with a panoply of dominant social-service and educational institutions, most notably Youngstown State University. His philanthropy there played a large role in construction of YSU’s state-of-the-art recreation and wellness center. He’s been recognized as an outstanding alumnus, has a track record as one of YSU’s largest and most consistent donors and has an art gallery named in his honor in Kilcawley Student Center.


Mr. James also counted among his kudos the coveted Pioneer Award, presented by the William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society in recognition of his leadership, community service, philanthropy, historic preservation and literacy efforts.

Richard Scarsella, chairman of that society, perhaps summed up best the life and times of C. Gilbert James Jr.: “Gibby had good manners, a wry sense of humor, was very generous and cared deeply about improving the community. He was a giant in the Mahoning Valley.”

That community giant also was a friend of The Vindicator for many years and was a regular visitor to the newspaper’s newsroom when it was located on the second floor of the neoclassical office building on Boardman Street that is now owned by the Youngstown Business Incubator. Gib enjoyed spending time with editors and reporters, and was a font of information on business, politics and community affairs. His involvement in numerous boards and organizations gave him special insight about the goings-on in the Valley that he willingly shared with us.

We, like thousands of others whose lives and causes he so deeply touched, will miss him greatly.

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