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. James 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. 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.
Upon graduation James moved to Sioux Falls, SD where he took a position as Assistant Food Service director for John C. Morrell & Co. and then taking a similar position with Best Foods after moving to Owatonna, Minnesota. James left Best Foods to take a position as a Program Analyst with Federated Insurance working within personal lines, work comp, reinsurance and regulatory reporting. In 2005, James decided to use his finance, technology and insurance knowledge by setting out on his own and has been self-employed since 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.
Brother James was introduced to the craft as a child by his maternal grandfather who was a very active Mason and Shriner with many days spent at parades and circuses. The impact of the craft was truly seen when his father spent a summer on the surgical team at the Shrine burn hospital in Galveston, TX. In May of 2001, 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, serving until 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.
During the eight years of involvement within the Grand Lodge of Minnesota he served on various committees including leadership, membership, long-range planning and several ad-hoc committees. Masonic education is a passion of James' and led to his being elected as Master of Educational Lodge #1002 in Minneapolis where he served a two year term, from 2010 through 2011, and presented two papers that were approved for publication by the Lodge. Currently, James is a member of Washington Lodge #70 and Hospitality #128 in Connecticut and has had the privilege of presenting lectures in several lodges.
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. While it was a long day, receiving six degrees during the course of one day it started James down a path that continues to this day. Over the years James served in various officer positions within Owatonna Chapter #15 until being elected as High Priest in 2009 and receiving the Order of High Priesthood. He was also appointed, in 2009, as Secretary of Vermillion Chapter, UD. Upon chartering he was elected as Secretary and remained such until moving to Connecticut. In 2010, James received the Triple Tau membership award and was appointed by MEC Terry Becker as the Sentinel of the Grand Chapter of Minnesota. Over the next few years James progressed through the Grand Chapter line until moving to Connecticut when he was Grand Master of the Third Veil. Upon moving to Connecticut, James joined Pythagoras Chapter #17 and has served as an officer ever since. In April 2016, he was elected as High Priest of Pythagoras. MEC David Abrames appointed James as Grand Master of the 2nd Veil in 2013, thus for most of June 2013 he was GM3V in Minnesota and GM2V in Connecticut. 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.
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. Ark Council #3 has participated with Northfield #12 to confer the Super Excellent Master degree every year. 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 was elected Grand Principle Conductor of the Work in 2019. In 2017 he was awarded the Philip J. Jones award for service.
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 at 193rd Grand Conclave. Which was a historic Conclave at is was the first ever held via tele and web conference due to COVID-19.
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. Their honeymoon was spent in Aruba after the first game of the NASL Championship Series in which James' Minnesota Stars were playing. They even spent their last night in Aruba watching as the Stars won the championship on a bad internet feed. 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 most Sunday's 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 various volunteer activities. 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.