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Memorial service to honor former IU Northwest Acting Director and History Chair William Neil on Jan. 7

Neil attended Gary College and was one of the first five faculty hired to teach in downtown Gary


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Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Charles Sheid
Office of Marketing and Communications

A memorial service to honor the life of William Neil, Ph.D., former Indiana University Northwest Acting Director and History Chair, will take place on Friday, Jan. 7 at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso. The service will begin at 11 a.m. with a luncheon following. Neil, age 90, passed away Monday, November 15, 2010.

Neil’s roots at IU Northwest run deep and span more than four decades; he attended Gary College, which later became the Gary Center of Indiana University, the predecessor to IU Northwest.

His studies were interrupted when he was inducted into the U.S. Armed Services in 1941 and became a member of the Military Police, later transferring to bombardier training. He was assigned to B-24 training and was sent overseas to Italy to fight in World War II.

Honorably discharged in May 1945, Neil returned to complete his studies at the University of Chicago, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees in history.

Neil became one of the first five faculty members hired to teach at IU Northwest, then located at Seaman Hall (commercial wing of the City Methodist Church). 

Jim Lane, Ph.D., IU Northwest Professor Emeritus of History, said he first met his colleague and friend when interviewing at the university.

“He was a real professional,” Lane said. “His students said he was a great lecturer and was the type of professor who didn’t even have to look at his notes; he just knew it (the content). He was very student-oriented and had high standards.”

Neil’s career at IU Northwest continued to grow; he served as the Acting Director of the university from 1959 until 1963.

“When the campus moved to its current location, Bill stepped in and served as the Acting Director of the university and was responsible for running this campus,” Lane said. “He received this opportunity when the current director took a sabbatical to obtain a Ph.D.”

Neil continued to advance in the academic world and became Assistant Professor, and then Associate Professor of History. He also served as Chairman of the History Department from 1963 until 1968 and as Dean of Faculties from 1969 until 1973.  

He was appointed as a Danforth Foundation National Scholar and was a Quill Professor of History until 1985, when he retired as Professor Emeritus.

Lane believes Neil’s dedication and allegiance to IU Northwest came from his time spent abroad while serving our country.

“Bill was in high school during the Great Depression, and he’d mentioned to me once that if it wasn’t for this university, he probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to school,” Lane said. “While fighting in World War II he had a near-death experience, and, at that point, he decided to dedicate his life to teaching, and to a school that gave people similar to him an opportunity for a good education.”

Neil was a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa academic fraternity and was a celebrated scholar and author of several articles and a book on the territories of the Far West. Lane said that Neil’s area of expertise included Early American History, Native American History, and Colonial History.

“On a personal level, Bill was a really nice fellow and good conversationalist,” Lane said. “He was born in Scotland and learned how to play the bagpipes. He even played them at his 50th wedding anniversary.”

Neil was also an avid reader and enjoyed photography, traveling and gardening.

He was predeceased by his wife, Mary Neil. He is survived by a daughter, Leslie Clarke, and her husband, Roger; a son, William Stewart Neil, and his wife, Linda; and 10 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

IU Northwest extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of William Neil.

First United Methodist Church is located at 103 Franklin Street, Valparaiso, Ind. For more information, please visit