Richard Irving McNeely Autobiography
Richard Irving McNeely, born November 24, 1928
Dick served as a chaplain in the Navy, taught in a theological seminary, and performed a college campus ministry. Now minister to Springhill Community Presbyterian Church in Belgrade, Montana.
My earliest remembrances of the family are still quite vivid in my memory. Having been born in Goodland, and having both sets of grandparents there until I was about seven or eight years old, there are many things that stand out in my mind. I can still see the house where the family resided while most of them were still unmarried. I remember Uncle Hod, whom we called Uncle Wiggley from the Beatrice Potter stories and because he could wiggle his ears. And I remember that Uncle Sam and Uncle Hod were always up to something at holiday time. For example, I remember the chocolate-covered pieces of cotton and the soap made to resemble divinity candy. These uncles, along with Uncle Kenny, were favorites of us "kids."
I also have a recollection of a sheep that Uncle Kenny was raising for a 4-H project or something. I hated that animal. Every time I would come into the yard, the thing would butt me and knock me down. I don't know what happened to that critter, but I hope someone enjoyed chops and leg of mutton. I also remember Uncle Kenny pulling us around the ice rink, and of being "featured" in a big review in which I sang "Petting in the Park" with Maribelle Woodring, my first love. We were both in first grade. And it was about that time that I made my entrance into politics at the behest of Uncle Hod. Alf Landon was running as the Republican candidate against FDR, and I had to memorize a poem about the New Deal. I still have a copy of the poem, which was a take-off on "Little Boy Blue."
We moved from Goodland to Colby just as I had started second grade. My dad was sent over there to assist in the opening of a new Caldwell Electric Appliance Store. But it was during that period of time that the dust clouds roared across the state; and, after awhile, my dad and mother decided that we should get out of there. So, in March 1937, we traveled from Colby to Goodland; and, with very little of this world's possessions, we met for a last evening in Granddad's and Grandmother's house. I still remember the family accompanying us to the railroad station in Goodland, for it was there that we began our sojourn to California. I think Sam and Kenny were the ones who helped our folks get down there with Don and me. It was an exciting time for us boys. I actually thought that I might make it to the magic screen and be starred with Shirley Temple. Alas, Hollywood didn't discover me, so I headed in other directions.
Our first home in California was in San Diego. We were not there very long, but Uncle Merv and Aunt Mary, Carl and Murnice visited us there and shortly after that, they moved to California. We had moved to Long Beach by this time, and Uncle Kenny was with us for awhile during which he worked at Douglas Aircraft and then cut hair at the Air Force barber shop located at the airport. It was Uncle Kenny who gave my brother Don his first swimming lesson by just tossing him into the water. Even though Don didn't know how to swim, he managed to get to the pier and climb up the ladder.Thanksgivings and Christmases were always a time in which we would get together with the Warner family. I can still smell the pumpkin and mincemeat pies. As we got older, we boys (Don, Carl, and I) would head over to the school and get involved in a pick-up football game. That was one way to work off a heavy meal.
When the war came, both my older cousins were in the armed services. Carl was in the Navy and we were very proud of him. When he returned from Italy, he shared a number of experiences with us. But what stands out is his allowing my brother to try on a pair of his blue navy pants. Don managed to put them on backwards. After all, that where all those buttons were and it just seemed logical.
Perhaps the most formative thing in my life, however, was our church. We actually began going to the First Brethren Church of Long Beach because our car's battery was dead. Dad and Mother believed in being in church on Sundays, so we walked to the church that was nearest to us. The Brethren Church was an outgrowth of the Anabaptist movement that arose in Europe at the time of the Protestant Reformation. It was German in origin, and, in Germany, they were known as the Dunkards (Baptists). Theologically, they were very much akin to the Mennonites. But we enjoyed the church and so that's where we began to put down our roots. It was a church that put a lot of emphasis on learning the Scriptures. By the time I had graduated from high school I had memorized several hundred passages of Scripture.
In 1946, I graduated from high school and our family took a long trip by car across the US, returning through part of Canada. During that trip we visited Granddad and Grandmother Dendurent in Goodland. One day, Grandmother had asked Granddad to pick up some eggs before he came home for lunch. I went to the store to meet him, and we walked home together. Maybe my showing up at the store made him forget about the eggs, but when we arrived home, Grandmother asked, "Murney, where are the eggs?" Granddad didn't miss a beat. He replied, "The hens weren't laying today."
It was on that same trip that I met my cousins, Howard and Harold, for the first time. My first recollection of them was that, as little kids (they were five), both of them were listening to classical music. Since I had a great deal of love for classical music, I was deeply impressed. When I finally saw Howard again after we were both grown, I shared that experience, and he assured me that his love for the classics had never waned, and, I think that is probably true of Harold as well. We spent some time in Washington with Uncle Walt's family and he and I had a long discussion on which was the better car, a Ford or a Chevy. My brother Don and I did a little work on his Chevy so that it wouldn't start, and so that settled the argument. We did own up to what we had done, and Uncle Walt laughed.
Granddad was very influential in my spiritual growth during that time. He sent me books and encouraged me to consider the ministry. I remember him as a godly man, and had it not been for his soft voice, he might have been a good preacher. But he dearly loved the Lord, and he was a consistent example of his beliefs.
There are so many more memories that I could fill a book with them. But I think that I'd better stop for now. I look forward so much to this reunion. It will be great to see Kenny's family again, and to see Muirnice and family, whom I have not seen for many, many years.
This is not only a year of this wonderful reunion, but it is also the time that I will have celebrated with my college class our 50th class reunion. So, the dawn of this millennium (it hasn't actually started) is getting off to a roaring start. Dick McNeely (February 2000)