Jim Bonk, an ex-marine who helped build the Camelot chain into one of the best music retailers in the world, died on April 5 in Canton, Ohio, surrounded by friends and family after a long battle with cancer. He was 60.

Bonk spent his entire business career at Camelot, signing on in 1968, shortly after coming back home from Vietnam. Camelot, based in Canton, was founded by Paul David 1956, and he attracted a strong senior management team -- which was led by executive VP and COO Bonk, but also included Larry Mundorf, Joe Bressi and Lew Garrett -- that would grow the chain to 364 stores before it was sold for $385 million to a financial firm Investcorp in 1993 in a leveraged buyout.

Bonk was "a unique guy," says Mundorf. "He was humble and unassuming, but he had a knack for business and a good sense of how to accomplish things. He conveyed a great sense of optimism and his can-do attitude was inspirational to all of us at Camelot."

After the sale to Investcorp, Bonk became president of the chain, but the high interest payments to service the heavy debt used in financing the acquisition, coupled with a vicious price war in 1996, forced the chain into bankruptcy. Although the company successfully reorganized and emerged from Chapter 11, it was subsequently sold to Trans World Entertainment in 1999.

"Jim fought the sale of Camelot to us in the beginning, but once the contract was signed, it was quite evident that he really cared about his people and would do what was best for them," says Trans World chairman Bob Higgins. "He was a real good person and a very honorable man who put himself after his people."

In addition to his role at Camelot, Bonk also served as the president of the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers in 1992. Current NARM president, Jim Donio says, "Jim Bonk was truly the epitome of a 'gentleman' and it was my distinct honor to know and work with him, especially during his time on the NARM Board. He approached industry issues forthrightly, but with a thoughtful and respectful consideration of the various perspectives, and often with good humor. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Linda, his family, friends, and many industry colleagues."

Pat Daly, the executive director of the NARM Scholarship Foundation said the organization is establishing a Jim Bonk Memorial Scholarship that will be officially announced at the 2008 Convention with the first award to be presented in 2009. Anyone interested in donating to the memorial scholarship can send checks made payable to the NARM Scholarship Foundation at NARM in Marlton, N.J.

Bonk is remembered for his integrity by label executives and distributors. "Jim Bonk was a man who demonstrated true partnership before it was en vogue to use the term to describe the goal of two companies doing business together," says Concord Records GM Gene Rumsey. "He always demonstrated honesty, integrity and class in all that he said but especially in all that he did."

Likewise, Universal Music Group Distribution president and CEO Jim Urie says, "Bonk was a pleasure to do business with. He was completely above board and whatever he said you could take to the bank, including if he turned you down."

Pete Anderson, a sales executive at Gotham Distribiting, says, Bonk "had a smile for everyone and was one of the classiest men in the industry. The way he carried himself you would never know he was the president of one of the largest chains in the industry."

Bonk will be laid to rest in Canton, with the wake to be held on Thursday afternoon and evening at the Karlo-Feucht Funeral Home, followed by funeral services scheduled for Friday at 11:30 Church of the Lakes.

Bonk is survived by his wife Linda, and two brothers Bill and Tom. In lieu of flowers, the family request any contributions to be made payable and sent to the Stark Community Foundation, c/o "JB James Bonk Memorial." 400 Market Avenue North, Suite 200, Canton, Ohio 44702, who will forward them to Duke University's Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.