by Tim Gross, ‘11
In the classroom, Dr. James Mahar,’88, fills young minds as an associate professor of finance at St. Bonaventure University. In homeless shelters in the community and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster sites along the East Coast, he provides relief and promotes serving others as a college-led disaster relief group’s founding member.
Mahar said he felt inspired to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “After the storm, I was watching CNN, and there were still bodies in the street in New Orleans. I said, ‘someone’s got to do something,’” he said.
He wanted to be that someone
Mahar said he planned to go down and assist at local grocery stores, armed with the experience he collected at the Park ‘N’ Shop chain stores owned by his family.
With the help of colleague Dr. Todd Palmer, an associate professor of management sciences, Mahar and eight others flew to the Gulf Coast, providing relief in Biloxi, Miss.
“Everyone there looked at us like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to be able to do anything,’” he said.
However, by the time they boarded the plane to return to Western New York, Mahar said he and his crew had received financial offers to cancel the flight and remain in the area.
“From that day, I think the bar was set very high by the students,” Mahar said.
BonaResponds was off the ground.
Mahar said he returned to the Gulf Coast in December of 2005 and the following spring, bringing volunteers with him each time — 300 during the latter trip.
Since 2005, BonaResponds has made six more trips to the Gulf Coast and trips to six other FEMA disaster sites, Mahar said. The group, funded primarily by donations, has provided relief in Enterprise, Ala., and Buffalo, N.Y.
Mahar said he remembered a saying from Biloxi that would influence him and the group’s spectrum of service.
“Just because we go home doesn’t mean we have to forget.”
Mahar said the saying inspired him to steer BonaResponds to the community he grew up in. The group has performed service throughout the Olean area, volunteering at the SPCA, serving food at homeless shelters and building homes.
Before his teaching career, Mahar attended St. Bonaventure University, running track and cross country and graduating with degrees in management and finance.
Recalling his days as an undergrad, Mahar said the finance and accounting classes helped influence him, along with the English courses he took with Dr. Richard Simpson.
“Anything, anytime I write something, I think of him,” he said.
Mahar said Bonaventure was his only choice. “I grew up basically on campus with basketball games and everything else,” he said.
After earning his M.B.A. at the University of Rochester, Mahar returned to work in management for Park ‘N’ Shop until he applied for a job teaching at the university. In order to stay on the payroll, Mahar said he was required to pursue a Ph.D. He earned a Ph.D. in finance at Pennsylvania State University.
Mahar teaches courses in corporate finance, financial management and students in money management.
He said BonaResponds is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“When we left Biloxi, we were going to the airport, and total strangers…came up to us and started hugging us and crying and saying, ‘Thank you. You don’t know what this means for you to come down here,” Mahar said. “You just can’t put a figure on that.”
In three years, what started as one man’s mission to help hurricane victims has expanded to include anyone wanting or needing help.
“We’ll help anyone. We’ll work with anyone,” Mahar said. “Everyone has something to contribute.”