Public servant lost
Nolan McNeill remembered for dedication to people
Ask those who knew Nolan McNeill, and they will tell you he was always eager to offer a helping hand and had a dedication to public service.
McNeill, a life-long Democrat, died on Jan. 22 at the age of 84 at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.
He was born on March 17, 1934, in Bethlehem, Mo., the son of John B. and Rilda Virginia (King) McNeill. On May 10, 1953, in Rocky Comfort, he was united in marriage to Barbara Lee Milligan, who survives. The couple had six children, four of whom still live in Barry County.
After graduating from Purdy High School, McNeill served in the U.S. Army Reserve, then worked for the Boeing Company in Wichita, Kan., through the 1950s. He returned to Barry County in 1960, settling in Cassville and operating a furniture store on the square. He went on to become a political leader in the area, serving 8 years as Barry County Presiding Commissioner and 10 years in the Missouri House of Representatives. While Lloyd Dilbeck was the only other Democrat to serve as Presiding Commissioner since McNeill’s two terms, McNeill remains the last Democrat from Barry County to be elected to the State House.
Bob Mitchell, former owner of the Cassville Democrat newspaper, said McNeill was a civic-minded person who loved to help people.
“He was president of the Chamber of Commerce when we had a mutual friend who represented Wells Aluminum come to us about opening a facility here,” Mitchell said. “Nolan did an excellent job at everything he did. I don’t know if there was anyone who requested information or assistance from Nolan that didn’t get it.”
McNeill’s son, Brooks McNeill, echoed the statement about his father’s willingness to help.
“He was just ‘Dad’ to me,” Brooks said. “He was just like every other dad. There were times we’d disagree, but he was a person who, for his family and the community, genuinely worked hard to help others. People in the community always knew he worked hard to better folks’ lives.”
Brooks recalled one night his father left the home to personally go help someone who called to ask.
“At different times when we were growing up, people would ask him for help,” Brooks said. “It may not have been something he could necessarily help with in his capacity as a Representative, but he would do anything to help in other ways.
“One night, about 30 years ago, he got a call from a person after dark, and the person knew he could call dad for help. Dad physically left the house to go help this guy, I think to give him a ride, but I’m not sure. My dad was a person who people around here knew they could count on.”
McNeill also had a soft spot for agriculture, working his own farm in Butterfield doing row crops and later, cattle.
“He was a big supporter of agriculture, and he farmed and got into cattle production himself,” Brooks said. “One bill in the legislature he was really proud of was to eliminate brucellosis in cattle. He was the main sponsor of that bill.”
Mitchell said McNeill worked hard for Barry County, and he didn’t always get the credit he deserved.
“Nolan did a lot for the area in several respects,” Mitchell said. “It started at the Chamber, and as presiding commissioner, he and Rex Stumpff put a stop to absentee voting violations. He was a true, true public servant, and he never really got the recognition he deserved. He came up with the appropriations bill for the convention center at Roaring River, and some of his predecessors took credit for that.
“He was a good party man, and was the Barry County Democrats chairman for many years. He also was responsible for establishing Big Rock State Park on Sugar Creek.”
Brooks said his father was also a man of faith, as he was member of the Cassville United Methodist Church since 1960.
“His faith was very important to him, and that may be where his belief in helping others came from,” Brooks said. “It’s not something you really think about, and none of us six kids are perfect, but that helpful spirit is something he passed on to all of us. In different ways, we try to help others through the church, at work and in our everyday personal lives.”
McNeill’s funeral was held Saturday at Cassville United Methodist Church. He was buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Butterfield.