December 18, 1927 – June 21, 2018
Ellen Neal died peacefully in her sleep on June 21, 2018 at the age of 90 following a stroke. Her final day was spent sharing stories and singing songs with her children, sister and other beloved family members at Capital Manor in Salem. Throughout her life, Ellen was recognized as a quintessentially gracious, dignified lady. Words that describe her include thoughtful, generous, organized, wise, engaging, practical, and nice, all traits which did an excellent job of concealing the fact that she was amazingly tough. Ellen made a meaningful difference in the lives of Oregonians for over 60 years through her career as a high school teacher and her community volunteer work.
Ellen was born in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1927 to George and Lula Williams who were also native Oregonians. In her formative years during the Depression, she remembers many encounters her family had with needy citizens who were then known as hobos, and how her mother often gave food to them. In high school, Ellen joined The Toppers, a popular big band in southern Oregon, as their pianist and sole female member. Upon graduation from Grants Pass High School at the age of 16, she matriculated to Oregon State College where she received her bachelor’s in education in 1950. A decade later, she continued her education during summer months and she received her master’s in education in 1964. While attending OSC, Ellen joined the Delta Gamma sorority. She remained active in the organization for decades, serving as a mentor to students in several DG chapters and spearheading their largest annual fundraising event for many years.
During the summer of 1947, while working at the soda fountain in her parents’ pharmacy in Reedsport shortly after her family’s move from Grants Pass, she met Ernie Neal who also attended Oregon State. Ernie was three years older than Ellen, a World War II veteran, and a member of the Beaver basketball team. He had enough life experience to know a good thing when he saw it! Ernie wisely courted Ellen and the following summer, they were married. Their loving union of 67 years lasted until Ernie’s death in December of 2015. Their first child, Steve, arrived in 1949 followed by Dan in 1952 and Gary in 1955. While Ellen was fully occupied raising the boys, Ernie began his teaching career in Rogue River for a year, then in Florence for three years before they settled in Bandon in 1955. Ellen commenced her career as a business teacher in Bandon in 1958. The family loved their decade in Bandon, forming many lifetime friendships as well as an abiding love for the Oregon coast.
Ernie and Ellen moved the family to Salem in 1965 to provide their children with broader educational opportunities over the vigorous objections of their youthful progeny. Discontent abated quickly as the family flourished in their new home at 333 Hollyhock Place. Ernie and Ellen lived there for 48 years before moving to Capital Manor in 2013.
Ellen was one of the original faculty members at McNary High School when it opened in 1965. She taught there for the remainder of her career. When Ellen retired from teaching, she became a member of the Assistance League of Salem. She served in leadership positions for many years and was particularly adept at grant writing which helped the organization raise funds to provide clothing, books and cultural experiences for children from low income families. Ellen was honored with an award for outstanding service to the Assistance League in 2014. She was also an active member of the PEO Sisterhood for 66 years, serving as chapter president twice, and holding every office at least once. Her special joy came from identifying young women wishing to improve their lives but who lacked resources for higher education. Ellen counseled many such women, assisting them in obtaining PEO scholarships, and often remaining in touch with them throughout their lives. Her volunteer activities also included serving as an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church where she was an active member.
After their retirement, Ernie and Ellen purchased a beach house at The Capes near Oceanside, Oregon. Their cozy coastal retreat became the site of countless family gatherings and fishing/crabbing/hunting adventures. Ernie and Ellen’s travels included Europe, Egypt, Australia, the South Sea islands and the Panama Canal. Their favorite destination, though, was Hawaii where they stayed many times. Ellen was also fortunate enough to visit China, together with her mother and sister, within the first couple years after China began accepting foreign visitors.
Ellen is survived by her sons Dan (Peggy) of Eugene, Gary (Bridget) of Yamhill, and daughter-in-law Susan Neal of Chicago, ten grandchildren, four great grandchildren, and her sister, Mary Helen Socolofsky (and family) of Portland. She was preceded in death by her son Steve of Chicago in 2004, and her husband Ernie.
Ellen will be remembered for her unerring good advice, her excellence in nurturing others and perhaps most of all, for her ladylike fashion sense and uplifting, unflappable demeanor. As one nephew said, “I never walked away from a conversation with Ellen without feeling better about myself and the world. She had a special way of bringing the best out in everyone.”
The life of Ellen Neal will be celebrated on August 12 at 12:00 p.m. at Capital Manor, 1955 Dallas Highway NW in Salem, Oregon.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Ellen’s memory may be made to: OSC P.E.O. Sisterhood Charitable Trust mailed to: Chapter G, 1935 Wickshire Ave. SE, Salem, OR 97302. Or to Assistance League of Salem, 1095 Saginaw Street South, Salem, OR 97302.