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Home arrow COMMUNITY arrow REAL PEOPLE: Former teacher, family, friends celebrate full life

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REAL PEOPLE: Former teacher, family, friends celebrate full life

Neva Neill celebrates her 100th birthday Saturday surrounded by family, including great-niece Kim Hilton, friends and former students. The wall of birthday cards celebrating the centenarian were sent from people all over the country. (Cherise Kaechele/The Observer)
Neva Neill celebrates her 100th birthday Saturday surrounded by family, including great-niece Kim Hilton, friends and former students. The wall of birthday cards celebrating the centenarian were sent from people all over the country. (Cherise Kaechele/The Observer)
The oldest resident at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence turned 100 years old on Saturday, and naturally a celebration ensued in honor of this centenarian. 

Neva Neill has seen and accomplished many things in her long life. Surrounded by family, friends and students from decades past, Neill blew out her three candles in the large room with nothing but standing room only.

Neill, who taught every grade from first through college, never married or had kids but instead traveled the world.

Her great-niece, Kim Hilton, believes the lack of husband and children accounted for her long life. 

“No husband, no kids,” said Bill Hermann, Neill’s nephew. “She had a glass of wine on occasion, but no vices.”

Neill was dedicated, though. She said when she graduated from high school in the 1930s, she went straight into college — something nearly unheard of for a woman during that time.

Neill received bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees during a point in history when women were outnumbered in college. However, to her, she didn’t think much of it.

“She was driven,” Hilton said. “An absolute bookworm.”

In the midst of the Great Depression, Neill entered Eastern Oregon Normal School, now Eastern Oregon University. 

At that time, less than 10 percent of the country’s population had received a bachelor’s degree or higher in education, according to an educational census. 

Neill received her bachelor’s degree in education from Eastern, where she would teach for more than 30 years. She continued her education and received her master’s from the University of Colorado and went directly to the University of California-Berkeley to receive her doctorate of education.

According to Teresa Gillis, reference librarian at Eastern Oregon University, in 1947, Neill was one of 493 women studying for their doctorate in the country. 

“She’s so humble,” Hilton said of Neill. “She had so many accomplishments but never bragged about them.”

For the complete story, see Monday's edition of The Observer. 

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