Bowling Green - Hoover Jackson (Jack) Neel, 90, passed away on August 8, 2019 at Hospice House of Bowling Green, after nearly a century of life lived in service and faith. Born Feb. 28, 1929 in Owensboro, KY, Jack was the son of the late Harry Hoover Neel and Hilda Duncan Neel. He was married to Maxine Deason Neel for 59 years, until her passing in 2014. Jack is survived by his sister Ruby Jean Ford (Wendell) and brother Donald Richard Neel (Faye), as well as Jack's and Maxine's four children – Karen Neel Henrickson (Charles), Jackie Neel Geegan, Gregory Scott Neel (Patti) and Angie Neel Moser (Kevin). He was blessed with eight grandchildren: Kelli Geegan, Sarah Geegan, Michael Geegan, Casey Moser (Carri), Ben Moser (DeAnna), Hannah Neel, Andrew Neel (Emily) and Jackson Neel, and one great-granddaughter, Emilyn Ann Moser.
Jack's life is a story of meaningful public service, enduring belief in the value of education and fierce love for family. The first chapter of his life took place in Owensboro, KY, where he graduated from Owensboro High School as an athlete on both the football and basketball teams. There, he cultivated the work ethic and leadership that would define his future as an athlete, educator, husband and father. He attended Clemson University as an army cadet, playing four years of college basketball and earning both a bachelor's and master's degree in education. Upon graduation, he was the first Clemson University student to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, an accolade recognizing college community members who demonstrate noble character, act as humble servants and elevate service to others above self-interest. After graduation, he continued his service in the military for four years, with a tour of active duty during the Korean War. He ended his service with the rank of Captain and received the Bronze Star for his meritorious achievement in a combat zone.
Despite these accomplishments, Jack would say the most significant chapter of his life began, not on the athletic or battlefield, but rather in a church pew in Owensboro. There, he first saw Maxine Deason singing in the church choir at Third Baptist Church. Recounting this moment, Jack said that he turned to his mother and whispered, "that's the woman I'm going to marry." Jack and Maxine were married in 1954, and she remained at the center of his world throughout their life together – a life spent uplifting the communities they touched.
Jack built his legacy through an enduring commitment to education, leaving an indelible mark on the education system in Kentucky. He began teaching at Foust Junior High School in Owensboro before moving to Clemson, SC to become principal of an elementary and junior high school, and later working with the South Carolina Educational Television system. The family moved back home to Kentucky in 1968, when Jack accepted a position with Western Kentucky University in the College of Education as the Director of Field Services. In this role, he spearheaded training efforts for teachers utilizing television as an instructional tool.
Jack's lasting impact on teachers and students throughout Kentucky was strengthened through his work with Kentucky Educational Television (KET), and with the Professional Development Center (PDC) Network – a consortium of 34 school districts which provided instructional training for teachers, principals and administrators. The network evolved into the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC), which touches thousands of Kentucky teachers' lives each year. Jack also worked with Kentucky school districts to establish the first gifted and talented programs in their schools, programs which have grown exponentially since this inaugural work. Ever the humble public servant and passionate educator, Jack was known for his quiet optimism and steady determination as he helped build the educational foundation for generations of Kentucky students. He retired in 1994.
Jack's devotion to education was perhaps matched only by his dedication to his family, friends and faith. Jack and Maxine were members of First Baptist Church of Bowling Green. They also built lifelong friendships as members of Indian Hills Country Club, where the Neel family developed cherished memories as their children grew. Later in their life, Jack and Maxine were regular fixtures at Bowling Green High School athletic events, where their children and grandchildren competed.
Jack spent the final chapter of his life surrounded by family and friends. And while that chapter reached its conclusion, his lessons – brought to life over a life lived well – have not. Jack leaves a lasting, distinguished influence on Kentucky education. Though his steady, sturdy and compassionate presence will be missed, his example will always guide those who learned from him. His memory will always inspire those lucky enough to love him.
Funeral services for Mr. Neel will be held at 11:00 am on Tuesday, August 13 at Johnson Vaughn Phelps Funeral Home, with burial to follow at Fairview Cemetery. Visitation will take place from 4:00 to 7:00 pm on Monday, August 12. Additional visitation on Tuesday, August 13 will begin at 9:30 until service time.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Hospice of Southern Kentucky.