The very best man with words has passed away.
Some might feel differently, or think it’s a prejudiced statement, but anyone who knew Don McNeal agrees without dispute.
We lost our true hero with his recent death at age 94. He had continued his dedicated writing skills until poor health kept him from working just the last few weeks. Actually, Don McNeal was our first real idol, and he had a direct influence on our career choice.
Mr. McNeal was editor of our hometown newspaper in Council Grove, and we were an avid reader every day, when the paper was hand-delivered to our grocery store. Now, we think it was because of his writing style. There was real news to read, and it was written in a way that even a young elementary school student could understand.
Many words are spoken and written, but, now too often it seems, they are without meaning. Every word written by Mr. McNeal made sense and was important, even if sometimes humorous. Thus, when the officiating pastor at his church-packed memorial service said Mr. McNeal was the equal to Walter Cronkite, there were obvious nods of agreement from the listeners.
Mr. McNeal was much more than the editor of one of the few surviving small-town news dailies in the country. He was everybody’s friend, and they all knew it. Mr. McNeal was just as comfortable talking to one of his paper carriers or a loafer in front of the pool hall just a couple doors down from his paper office as he was with a university president or Congressman.
In this short amount of space, it would be impossible to do justice to Mr. McNeal’s 67 years as a newspaper man or to accurately describe his life’s service, which was limitless.
Interestingly, he personally wrote more than one-fifth of a million stories, and who could count how many words? Prior to the early “70s, every story was written on a manual typewriter, and then reset in hot type on a linotype machine, before being printed on a steel letterpress.
We always knew Mr. McNeal, because his office was less than a block from our store, and we’d see him daily as we carried groceries and he was working the news beat. During his years as editor, never was there not a five-times-a-week daily issue. Even when flood waters were three feet high in his office, the paper was printed.
Only more important than his community and its newspaper was Mr. McNeal’s family. There was never a question about that, and we think his greatest pride was that his son, Craig, joined him in the family business and followed in his shoes as its editor.
We feel so inadequate attempting to give credit to a person who has meant so much to us, to our hometown, our county, our university, our state and our country.
Plagiarism is using another’s words without credit, and Mr. McNeal never did that, but we would like to draw on other’s descriptions of our friend: “Don McNeal ‘The most respected man in this community.’ We will miss you.” Mr. McNeal was truly a “wise gentleman,” an “icon” and “he will never, never be forgotten.”
A number of Bible passages were appropriately and applicably used in referring to Mr. McNeal at his funeral, but one printed inside the memorial folder must be repeated.
The most accurate and clearly defining description of Don McNeal comes from First Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. Love never fails.”