For James Buford, leading the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis isn’t a job—it’s a movement. And after 28 years of nurturing and growing that movement, the president and CEO of the local chapter will retire in May 2013. But he already has big plans for staying involved in the National Urban League, as well as the St. Louis community.

Under Buford’s leadership, the local Urban League has expanded significantly—from an annual budget of $2 million to $23 million that supports social services for more than 50,000 residents through seven locations in St. Louis and St. Clair counties. Buford attributes the major growth to the staff of quality decision-makers he built through the years. “I’m pleased with the fact that I have built this agency to be one of the premier agencies in the social services arena.”

In recent years, the gap between the haves- and have-nots has expanded to more people—not only blacks, but whites and Hispanics, Buford says. In response, the League has added three outreach centers for emergency services and broadened programs including HeadStart, weatherization and utility assistance.

For his dedication to numerous league and other community causes, Buford has received multiple recognitions, such as the 2005 Mentor St. Louis Award, the 1997 St. Louis Gateway Classic Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1995 St. Louis Community College Distinguished Alumni Award.

After years of the “24/7 vocation,” Buford plans to slow down—but not too much—in retirement. “You need to stay involved to keep your mind fresh,” he says. To stay sharp, he will be lending his social services expertise to the National Urban League as a consultant. “Once you become part of the League, you can never turn that off,” he says. “I’ll never go away; it’s in my blood.” In addition, he will remain on about five community service boards, including Father’s Support Center of St. Louis and Annie Malone Children’s Home. Buford currently serves on 21 boards, including Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis ConnectCare and Jobs for America’s Graduates.

Through it all, Buford sees his greatest accomplishment as growing the local Urban League. “I can go to my grave knowing that because of my impact, many people are better off.”