As lifelong educators, Dale and Martha McNeely had a special passion for children and education. Combined with their generosity for the causes they cared deeply about, it made perfect sense when Martha’s trust established the Dale McNeely Scholarship Fund for Scottsburg High School students.
Dale was born in Scott County, the son of Fred Albert and Ella Ethel Gladden McNeely, while Martha was raised in nearby Saluda, the daughter of Frank “Tate” and Della Crafton Taylor. Dale graduated from Lexington High School in 1951, where he was a member of the basketball team. At that time, Lexington did not have a gym, so the only opportunity to practice was outside or borrow someone else’s gym, said Dale’s nephew, Gary Bridgewater. Both Dale and Martha attended Hanover College, which is where they met. They married in 1960 and began a life of teaching and helping others.
Dale coached basketball at several schools in southern Indiana and Kentucky, and initiated the first varsity girls’ basketball program at Paoli High School. He coached New Marion’s first and only Ripley County Tournament and Sectional Championship team in 1961, with his team setting a national scoring record of 154 points in a single game. He was famous for that accomplishment, said Martha’s sister-in-law, Carolyn Taylor, and “he barely had enough kids for a team!” she said. He was inducted into the Hanover College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000 for his participation in track, and as a coach and administrator. He is the only coach in Indiana to win three sectional titles in three consecutive years at three different high schools, according to Gary.
“Whenever Uncle Dale did anything with us he would use his love of sports as an instrument to bring about an educational moment with us,” said Gary. “It may not be the kind of education that you would get credit for in school, but something you could use in life.”
They both had a long career at Pikeville College in Pikeville, Ky., where Dale served as head basketball coach, professor and dean, and Martha was a professor.
Martha taught business at several schools, and operated an antique shop in Paoli while she taught there. She was assistant superintendent for Scott County School District II from May 1989 through June 1992, where she handled curriculum duties as well. There she became close friends with Sheila Kessler, who was the middle school counselor for 31 years.
“She was such a dedicated educator, with a tremendous amount of energy,” said Sheila, “which she directed toward wanting every child to succeed.” “She thought kids could challenge themselves – ‘you don’t let adversity overcome your dream,’” Sheila explained. “Because Martha believed in kids, she wanted kids in Scott County to be successful.”
After the couple retired, they traveled a lot and remained active in the community. He was a member of the Southwestern School Board until the time of his death on February 12, 2004. Martha continued tutoring at their home in Hanover. “You can tell she was an educator,” said her sister, Elaine Bair. “She was always helping kids and trying to make it easier for them.” Martha also enjoyed writing grants for the Town of Hanover, serving on the town board and helping to find money for the community’s needs whenever possible. She was instrumental in beginning the process of the establishment of a library branch in Hanover, and although she did not live to see the results, it was recently announced that a branch will be built. They were also members of the Hanover Presbyterian Church.
While the couple never had children, they were very involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews. While they maintained their professional ethics at work, their demeanor changed for the kids. Elaine and Carolyn affectionately recall how the kids called Dale “Uncle Curly Noodle” because of his curly hair. He would dress up as Santa Claus when the kids were little. “There were a lot of fun times!” said Elaine.
Scottsburg High School freshman Jerel Taylor shared his memories of his great-aunt and great-uncle as well. “Our Aunt Martha and Uncle Dale were always exposing us to various educational experiences. They took us to the zoo, aquariums, caves, and always talked to us about how important it was to further our education after high school,” said Jerel.
“Uncle Dale and I always shared a love for sports,” continued Jerel. “He told me numerous amounts of stories about his old coaching days. Even though I heard every story about 50 times, it was still as good as the last time he told me. Aunt Martha would always tell my brothers and me, ‘I promise that when you nephews come over this weekend, we will not do any work.’ Well it turns out 99.7 percent of the time she was ‘just kidding’ and she always found some yard work and gardening stuff to do. She also took us on many walks along the Hanover College campus and told us several stories about our family heritage. They were two very unique individuals and I will always be thankful and cherish the time I was fortunate enough to spend with them.”
Both had a great love for animals, adopting whenever they got the chance, and bringing food and dog houses to people. Dale served on the Jefferson County Animal Shelter Board until his death. After he died, Martha worked hard to raise funds for playground equipment at Hanover Park. Carolyn told how one day Martha was “dressed to the nines” for her meeting with Crusade for Children to obtain a grant for the park. On her way, she came across two beagles that had been hit by a car. She stopped to pick them up and care for them, and went to her meeting regardless, with muddy paws and more on her clothes. “And she got the grant money!” said Carolyn.
“Whenever Uncle Dale was traveling there was a good possibility that he would come home with a stray cat or dog that he had found on the side of the road,” added Gary. “If they couldn’t find a home for it, the animal became part of the McNeely family. While at Hanover, every summer he brought the fraternity pet, Fiji, a raccoon, to live with him at his parent’s house – inside the house in Dale’s bedroom, not outside,” he said.
Martha became sick unexpectedly last spring. It was especially shocking to family members, since she exercised daily, ate healthy, and looked 20 years younger than her age of 69. After she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June, she died a short time later on August 8, 2008.
Elaine and Carolyn lovingly remember Martha for her wonderful qualities. While she was a private person, she was not afraid to speak her mind. “She gave the personification of being righteous and pure, but when you went out with her, she’d let down her hair and was a lot of fun,” said Carolyn, who was married to Martha’s brother. They recalled her as being a hard worker with a strong personality, but someone who was always there to help if needed. Martha had enjoyed antiques, music, shopping at Margaret’s, gardening and working in her yard.
Although her family was surprised to learn about the scholarships established through the Martha McNeely estate, her commitment to the education of students is apparent. The McNeelys were generous with the causes they were passionate about, and their passion for education will be carried on through the scholarships to Scottsburg and Southwestern high school students.
While educators are not typically known for their huge salaries, through Martha’s frugalness, she was able to amass a sizeable estate, which will benefit students at Scottsburg High School for generations to come. Martha honored her husband’s ties to Scott County by naming the scholarship after him, keeping in tradition with her desire to remain private compared to her husband’s love of the public life. The first scholarship will be awarded to a deserving student in May.
The legacies of Dale and Martha McNeely will continue to live on through the scholarship fund established at the Scott County Community Foundation. For more information on how to contribute or how you can make a difference in our community, call the Scott County Community Foundation at 752-2057, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website at www.scottcountyfoundation.org or stop in the office at 60 N. Main St.