You never know what life events will plant the seed for your future career. For Pearle Vision franchise owner, retired U.S. Army Colonel Dr. Jim Elledge — having a cool summer job as a teenager, sitting high atop a lifeguard chair, provided him an interesting perspective. 

Jim worked as a lifeguard for a country club in his small farming town of Dexter, Missouri. From his chair, he had a birds-eye view of not only the swimmers in the pool but the activity going on in the parking lot. In the late afternoons, he would start seeing local farmers arriving in their pickups, having a beer, and playing some golf. But one day, he noticed something out of the ordinary — a little red BMW pulling into the country club parking lot. 

“When you’re 16, living in a farm town, seeing a BMW is pretty cool,” he laughs. “I asked around and found out the beemer belonged to a local optometrist. I took a mental note — observing that the doctor had obviously finished his day by 4 p.m. and hit the links. That was certainly intriguing.”

But it was more than the allure of a cool car that motivated Jim to pursue optometry. In his senior year of high school, he took a class that dealt with practical matters to help with “adulting.” The class applied real-life skills like how to grocery shop, bank, and pay rent. The students had to choose a profession. You guessed it, Jim chose optometry. 

This initial spark led Jim to pursue a pre-med track in college, where, once again, all signs pointed toward optometry. Interestingly, although he was embarking on a career to help people with their vision, he, himself, had never had an eye exam.

With his eyes set on William Jewell College in Kansas City, having been given a football scholarship, he recognized he would need more financial assistance to cover tuition costs. 

Shortly after his 18th birthday, he joined the Missouri Army National Guard, serving from his freshman year through his first two years of optometry school. He then pursued a four-year optometry program at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Thanks to the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), the military covered the costs of his final two years of optometry school. 

Jim was the youngest in a family deeply rooted in military service. His father was retired from the Air Force, and his older brother, who served 23 years as an infantry officer, were significant influences. 

“My dad, my brother, and a good friend all encouraged me to join the military,” Jim recalls. “Looking back, that was the best advice. I enjoyed an amazing 33-year career in the Army utilizing my training in optometry to help troops all over the world.”

Dr. Jim Elledge’s military career was extensive and diverse, including a residency in ocular disease in Huntsville, Alabama, providing eyecare for troops in South Korea while with the 2nd Infantry Division, and being promoted to major while in Ansbach, Germany. Dr. Elledge also served as the Army’s program manager for vision conservation and readiness, focused on eye safety for soldiers, and was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom for 18 months in Iraq with the 115th Combat Support Hospital during the war, handling everything from routine vision exams to trauma and ocular diseases. He later held positions as Chief of Optometry Services at Fort Lewis, Washington, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for four years, before becoming the Chief of the Department of Optometry at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in 2017.

Throughout his three decades of service, Dr. Elledge had the opportunity to see and experience things he never would have as a civilian. “I’m grateful the Army allowed me to see so many amazing things and immerse myself in different cultures,” he says. “The camaraderie, the sense of community, and the common mission are parts of the military I will always miss. I am proud I was able to wear the uniform.”

After retiring from the Army in May 2022 as a colonel, Dr. Elledge transitioned into franchising with Pearle Vision. The changeover from a military career to franchising is a growing trend. Veterans like retired Colonel Jim Elledge account for 14% of franchisees in the United States.

Dr. Elledge and his wife Meighan, who manages their Pearle Vision location, have found franchising to be a rewarding venture “When I was in optometry school, Pearle provided study guides for national board exams,” he explains. “I was familiar with the brand’s positive reputation and recognized the great opportunity in the San Antonio area. Our business has been steady and improving. What has been ideal is the freedom to practice at a high medical level while benefiting from the brand’s recognition. It’s a perfect fit for us.” 

His military service has equipped him with invaluable skills for his new role. “The variety of clinical experiences and problem-solving skills I developed in the military are incredibly useful in business,” he says. “Every day brings new challenges, and managing a team comes naturally after my leadership roles in the army.”

Pearle Vision recognizes the value veterans bring to the table. Pearle Vision founder Dr. Stanley Pearle was himself a Navy veteran, having served in the Second World War. To honor those who have served, Pearle Vision offers a 20% discount on franchise fees to honorably discharged U.S. veterans. By joining VetFran, the International Franchise Association’s veterans incentive program, Pearle Vision strengthens its commitment to those who have served the nation and their disciplined, mission-focused approach, which makes them ideal candidates for franchising and explains why Pearle Vision is approximately 25% veteran owned. 

Reflecting on his journey, Dr. Elledge shares a humorous anecdote that brings his story full circle. “By the way, I did eventually buy my own BMW while living in Germany. But the car was a tight fit for a former football player,” he laughs. “Now, I drive a Kia Telluride SUV, which suits me much better.”

Dr. Elledge’s story is not just about his transition from military service to franchising; it’s about the impact of his work on the community and the honor of serving those who serve. “Looking back, wearing the uniform was a great experience for a kid from a small farming community,” he says proudly. “My assignments around the world have enhanced my life and allowed me to become a better doctor now in private practice.” 

Dr. Elledge’s dedication to providing quality eye care and his commitment to his community exemplify the values that make veterans such a valuable asset to the franchising world.