Inspire: Juli Boeheim, SU basketball’s mother figure

By Matthew Gutierrez

The wife of one of the most recognizable figures in Central New York is standing inside her kitchen, but her thoughts are elsewhere. Because, well, it’s gotten a lot quieter at home: In August, Juli Boeheim sent her twins off to college. The year before, her oldest child, Jimmy, began his freshman year at Cornell.

 

So in her off-time — what little of it there is — Boeheim visits her three children. That means frequent trips: west on the Thruway to see her daughter, Jamie, a freshman at the University of Rochester; south on Interstate 81 to see her older son, Jimmy, a sophomore at Cornell University; and the 15-minute drive to Syracuse University, where her younger son, Buddy, is a freshman.

All three play basketball — of course they play basketball. Their father, Juli’s husband Jim, is the Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach at Syracuse. Juli married him in 1997. Since she moved to Syracuse, she’s quietly spent the bulk of her life not living in glamour, but giving back to the people all around her — including her children and the community that fell in love with her husband’s teams.

 

“The community has been so generous to us,” Juli said. “Living here has been beyond anything I could have imagined.”

A small table in the Boeheim family room functions as the center for their philanthropic endeavors — and what’s become Juli’s life work. It’s a no-frills operations: just a MacBook and some notes. She makes calls, sends emails and prepares events for the foundation she and her husband started nine years ago. The Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation allows Juli to empower children in the community and direct resources to organizations and causes.

 

Her office was once the family playroom. Now she spends hours there behind a desk, volunteering her time to lead the organization that’s donated millions to local organizations such as the Salvation Army and Make-A-Wish CNY.

“She’s in there all of the time working on the foundation,” said son Jimmy. “That’s her main job. It’s her personality, just doing good things for other people. She understands the community has given her and my dad so much, so they want to give back.”

 

Juli was born in Miami and grew up in Kentucky. She tried modeling in Chicago for a year, but she didn’t like it. People questioned her accent. “What nationality are you?” they’d ask.

She returned to Kentucky, then her life changed forever. She reluctantly attended a Kentucky Derby Party on May 7, 1994, and Jim Boeheim happened to be in town. They met and hit it off, forming a bond that’s kept them together 24 years later.

 

Shortly thereafter, Boeheim moved to Central New York and took classes at SU toward a master’s degree in child and family studies with a focus on infant and young children with disabilities. She didn’t become a teacher, but she channels the lessons she picked up through schooling in many ways. Through the family’s foundation, she regularly works with children and women in the Boys and Girls Club, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and the Upstate Cancer Center.

 

“She’s not about signing big checks or looking good,” said her daughter, Jamie. “All of what she does comes from her heart.”

 

Juli has served on the boards of the ARC of Onondaga, University Hospital, Upstate Medical University Foundation and the Syracuse Community Health Center. She’s also been active with the Rescue Mission and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

 

She wants to inspire her children, women in Syracuse, and her community overall. She is strong and able to hold her optimism through adversity, such as being right by her husband’s side as he battled prostate cancer in 2001. Members of the Syracuse men’s basketball team often see her roaming in the locker room after games. She congratulates players and encourages them to dream bigger, while appreciating the little things in life. Players call her a “mother figure.”

“When I got here, I had a hard time because in the South you just smile at people and say hi,” Juli said. “I couldn’t get that here, and that bothered me. But after a little time, strangers started coming up to me at Wegmans, wherever, talking about the foundation. I love that. The community welcomed me.”

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