Jim Riley, founder of Red Letter Communications, business entrepreneur and community leader, has been named the 2019 Friend of the University by the Southeast Missouri University Foundation.
He will be honored with the award as part of the annual President’s Council Dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 29, in the River Campus Cultural Arts Center Atrium. This event previously was previously scheduled for Feb. 15 but was postponed due to inclement winter weather.
“On behalf of the University, I would like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Jim for the heartfelt contributions he has made to this institution for many, many years,” said Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “He has provided experiential learning opportunities for our students for decades in advertising, public relations, web development, branding and creative strategy. As a member of the Department of Mass Media’s Advisory Board, he has been a tremendous asset in our continued efforts to elevate the quality of our academic programs. We are extremely indebted to Jim for his unwavering support for KRCU, Redhawks Athletics and our scholarship programs. We are grateful for his commitment for all he has done and continues to do for Southeast Missouri State University.”
Riley is a 1980 Southeast graduate with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication. He founded Red Letter Communications in Cape Girardeau in 1981, and over the past 37 years, has led efforts on behalf of local, regional and national clients, forming significant business relationships with companies such as Crader Distributing & STIHL Incorporated, VAST Broadband, Saint Francis Healthcare and Paul McKee’s Northside St. Louis Regeneration.
“My University experience, as much as anything, shaped me in terms of who I am and what I do. I was so very fortunate to find something that I wanted to be a part of, and to have professors who took the time to really teach and who would not settle for mediocrity,” Riley said. “I learned all the foundational skills, and was exposed to so much opportunity that, without knowing it, I was given the building blocks and basis for my career.”
His degree from Southeast provided him a solid foundation for cultivating future success, he said.
“I graduated with what anyone would hope to — enough adaptable knowledge to compete and contribute in my profession, a perspective that included some understanding and appreciation of art, history, math, science and literature, and, perhaps most importantly, I left SEMO with the inspiration to grow — and enough confidence to believe that I just might be able to do it,” Riley said.
Over the course of his career, he also has engaged in entrepreneurial efforts, including Mississippi Cape, LLC; Shamrock, LLC; DreamBig, LLC; and real estate and business development in Cape Girardeau. He is the author and partner with local illustrator Don Greenwood in Dogtown Press, LLC – Children’s Books with Purpose.
As a volunteer, Riley has served as the primary strategist and author for campaigns supporting Cape Girardeau’s Transportation Trust Fund, a Parks, Recreation & Stormwater initiative, building of the new Cape Girardeau Public Library; a $40 million public school bond issue and a fire sales tax to support local fire, police and city staff.
He also led the effort to engage Isle of Capri with Cape Girardeau. He then collaborated with business and city leaders, including former Mayor Harry Rediger, to win Missouri’s 13th and last gaming license for Cape Girardeau. These efforts resulted in a $120 million casino development and the addition of about 600 jobs to Cape Girardeau’s riverfront.
Riley is a member of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation Board and the Foundation’s President’s Council. He currently serves as an advisory board member with the Department of Mass Media and, in 2011 along with wife Michaele, founded The Taylor Endowment for Excellence in Media Communications, a $100,000 scholarship fund designed to engage with Southeast radio and video alumni to create quality internships and mentoring and financial support to current mass media students. He has given to support scholarships, KRCU and Redhawks Athletics both personally and through Red Letter Communications.
He is the recipient of the 2011 Old Town Cape Visionary Award and the American Advertising Federation Silver Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 2003, the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award was presented to Red Letter Communications. Riley is also a 50-year member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Cape Girardeau.
He is the son of the late Evelyn and the late James Riley, Sr. He is married to Michaele (Benoit) and is the father of Anthony (Eliza), Alyson (Matt Shead), Hannah (Shawn) Wheeler and Luke Riley.