Don McNeely: A Renaissance Man

Now and again someone will ask me about Don McNeely and the McNeely Center at Saint John's.  Did I know him?  If so, who was he?  And what's the mission of the McNeely Center?

Don and I weren't friends, and we certainly weren't colleagues; but I ran into him often enough through the years to say a little bit about him.  And what I would say is this.  In the span of his long life (1914-2009) Don had an incredibly busy career, and he compiled a long list of accomplishments.  He was a graduate of Yale; an entrepreneur; a Navy WW II veteran; the director of a number of major companies, nonprofits and charitable foundations; a co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings; and he helped bring the Washington Senators to Minnesota (for those who don't know, they're the Twins today).

In addition to all this, Don dedicated a great deal of time and energy to Saint John's University, where for many years he served as a member of the Board of Regents.  At Saint John's his interests were varied and his impact large; and we see his legacy in the University Chair in Critical Thinking, in the Warner Palaestra, and in the Donald McNeely Spectrum.  Late in life two gifts best-characterized  his aspirations for Saint John's.  In one he underwrote the cost of a major sculpture signifying his love of Johnnie athletics, and today that piece presides at the north end of Clemens Stadium.  And the second is of an entirely different nature:  the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship.

Mr. McNeely had high hopes for the Center, but at bottom he intended it to provide our students with the fundamentals that would make them successful in their careers.  Specifically, he wanted it to be a resource program that would provide classes, coaching and assitance to emerging entrepreneurs.  He also hoped that it would  build relationships among and between fellow students, faculty, alumni/ae and community members -- relationships that could create and strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit.

Today many elements have converged to further that goal.  Faculty members now provide five courses in the Center -- including three Entrepreneur Scholars courses, one course in Entrepreneurship, as well as a course in Social Entrepreneurship.  This spring the Center graduated thirteen Entrepreneur Scholars and will welcome its twelfth cohort of scholars this fall.  These thirteen new students will join twelve who will advance to their second year in the program.  And not least of the products of the Center have been a number of  short-lived and continuing businesses that have graced Saint John's and Saint Ben's.  These include Extending the LINK, Clemens Perk, Johnnie Java, T-Spot, Yambiro Ecuador Project, WeCar, SJU Solar Greenhouse, SquareOne, Neverest, Nelson's Lawn Care, Todo Possible, and All You Can

Future stories will report on some of those successes, as well as on plans for the further development of the Center.  All will build on a lot of work on the part of people like Brother Dietrich Reinhart ('71), Dan Whalen ('71), Terri Barreiro (the founding director, 2004-2014), Pat Maxwell ('66 and current director), Mike Urbanos ('72), Teresa Mazzittelli (CSB '72) and Bob Foster ('72).  But for the moment let's thank Mr. Don McNeely, whose vision for the future of Saint John's made this possible.

[Editor's note: To learn more about the McNeely Center, visit this link for a short video. If you'd like to learn more on how you can support this project, pleast contact Brad Neary or one of the other development officers by clicking "Contact Us" below.]