Lyle Neal has plenty of incentive to retire after more than 40 years of service to Southeast Community College and the former Nebraska Technical College in Milford.
“I’ve got five fishing partners waiting for me,” said Neal, referring to his five grandsons, ages 1 to 9. “I don’t plan to be one of those retirees who sit around wondering what to do.”
Neal, whose passion for his family, church and community work, and fishing will keep him plenty busy, will work his last day at SCC’s Milford Campus on June 30.
“I never dreamed I’d be here for that long,” said Neal, whose wife Bev retired last December from her work at Milford High School.
During his more than four-decade career, Neal has seen the name of the school change, new leadership take over at various levels, unprecedented enrollment growth, mind-boggling changes to technology, and five job titles of his own.
To put it into perspective, when Neal was hired in October 1971, Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Fla., former Beatle John Lennon released the hit “Imagine,” and the first-ever night game of a Major League Baseball World Series was held.
The early years
Neal was born and raised near Thedford, located in Thomas County in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills. He was one of five children born to Betty and the late Kenneth Neal. He graduated from Thedford High School in 1967.
That fall he enrolled at Kearney State College, now the University of Nebraska at Kearney, to study music. He wanted to become a high school music teacher.
“But I needed to learn how to play the piano, and the 7 a.m. piano lessons didn’t go over well,” Neal said with a laugh.
After one semester he transferred to Evangel College, now Evangel University, in Springfield, Mo., not for music, but to study business. “My hope was to become a high school business teacher,” he said.
Neal graduated in May 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in secondary education. But it was the Vietnam era, and colleges and universities were graduating students at a record pace. Landing a job was difficult to say the least.
“There was a surplus of 100,000 teachers at that time,” Neal said. “I sent my resume to 70 or 80 schools and didn’t get one interview.”
He returned home to Thedford and worked for a well driller when he received a phone call from his alma mater. The Nebraska Technical College at Milford was looking for an accounting instructor.
Neal applied for the position, interviewed and got the job. Lowell Welsh, the first full-time director of the Milford school, hired Neal.
“I think he hired me because I knew where Westerville, Nebraska, was,” Neal said with a laugh. “That’s where he was from, and it’s not far from where I grew up.”
Although Neal was better prepared to teach high school students, he adjusted to the college classroom, picked up the nine credit hours of vocational certification that were required and set out on an 18-year career as an instructor at the College.
In the beginning Neal taught Accounting I and some general education classes. He paid close attention to how his mentor, John Ahl, taught Salesmanship. “I took pages of notes while observing his class, then I turned around and taught the class,” Neal said. “He used only one card of notes.”
Neal was just 22 when he began teaching at the College. And while he was nervous about teaching at the college level, he leaned on his student-teaching experience at Parkview High School in Springfield.
“At Parkview I taught an accelerated accounting class and got to work with students in Circle K Club, which my mentor sponsored,” Neal said. “I enjoyed working with those students, and when I got to Milford, I decided there wasn’t that much of a difference teaching high school students and college students.”
He did, however, spend time convincing students that those business courses would benefit their future careers.
“You had to sell them on that idea,” he said. “Years later, a lot of students came back and told me how much they appreciated what I had taught them. That was very rewarding.”
The next phase
In the early 1980s, former Milford Campus Director Bob Klabenes gave Neal release time to learn the Apple III computer and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet computer program. Soon, Neal began teaching a Microcomputer Applications course, which he did for the next eight years.
“I worked with SuperCalc, PFS Write, taught DOS (Disk Operating System), Basic programming, and the programming language Pascal,” Neal said. His experience with computers was a major reason that he was hired as business manager, a position he held from 1989-1991. In that job he managed the area payroll and assisted in the development of an in-house payroll system. He supervised accounts payable and accounts receivable departments, and he led efforts to computerize functions within the Milford and Area Business Office.
“I thought I’d be in the classroom my entire career,” Neal said. “But I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the business manager job.”
From 1992-1997, Neal served as vice president of fiscal services, which included supervising the Milford/Area Business Office, assisting Computer Services in converting the Business Office functions from an in-house system to an integrated database system now known as Jenzebar, and co-chairing the Cafeteria Team that ultimately led to the construction of the Dunlap Center.
From 1997-2003, Neal served as assistant campus director under Larry Shaw. Again, Neal’s responsibilities included supervising the Milford/Area Business Office, but also involved assisting with the implementation of the voice over fiber telephone network, the day-to-day oversight of the College’s phone systems, and chairing the Governance team for the successful North Central accreditation site visit. In all it was one of the most rewarding times of Neal’s career.
“I spent a lot of time working with employees on their benefits,” he said. “I tried to give them good counsel and support. Now I get enjoyment out of seeing others perform these tasks.”
One of Neal’s greatest accomplishments occurred as assistant campus director.
“I requested in 1997 permission from the CEO’s Advisory Team to form a team to explore the feasibility of electronic imaging of paper documents,” Neal said. “The team and administration approved the concept, and we started imaging paper copies for payroll, student services, financial aid, and human resources in 1998. We were years ahead of most colleges in Nebraska in regard to electronic imaging. The service is still in place today and relied upon by nearly every office and service.”
Vice president and campus director
For the past 11 years Neal has served SCC as the vice president for technology and Milford Campus Director. It’s another job that’s seen many changes throughout the years. Neal said although it’s been stressful, it’s also been rewarding.
“I enjoy being with people and I enjoy the family atmosphere of our campus,” he said. “I’ve known many people their entire careers, and I’ve seen them take pride in what they do. I share in that pride, and we work very well as a campus.”
It’s no surprise that the biggest challenge Neal has faced throughout his career is changing technology. During his 11 years as vice president for technology, the network demand for Internet traffic has grown exponentially.
“When I started, we had 40 megabytes of Internet connection,” Neal said. “We’re going from purchasing 300 megabytes of bandwidth soon to be 400 before the end of this fiscal year. We also have 95 percent or more dense wireless penetration all over the College. That’s a huge service to our students.
“We’ve experienced a lot of changes over my 11 years. Moved from the Jenzabar Enterprise system to Datatel, migrated from Datatel UNIX operating to SQL, Novell to Microsoft file systems, Lotus Notes to Outlook, introduced the SharePoint Portal known as The Hub, experienced numerous upgrades to Office, Autodesk, Adobe, and countless other services.”
The next chapter
Neal, who turned 65 in late April, plans to spend time with Bev, his wife of 41 years, doing what they enjoy.
“My wife and I both enjoy the outdoors, we like to read, and our church and family are very important to us,” he said. “We plan to do some traveling.”
Neal always has been a community supporter. He serves as an executive leader for Christ’s Place Church in Lincoln, is a member of the Milford Economic Development Committee and of the Webermeier Scholarship Committee. He’s also a past president of the Milford City Council, which he was a member for eight years.
The Neals sold their house in Milford and plan to move to Lincoln this summer, where they’ll be closer to three of Neal’s fishing partners, grandsons Xander 9, Tyce 4, and Gavin 1. They are the children of Neal’s son Jeremy and wife Tina. His two other “partners,” Elijah 5 and Judah 3, live in Cumming, Ga., with their parents, the Neal’s daughter Monica and her husband Josh Mayo.
Neal said there are a lot of things he’ll miss about SCC.
“Obviously, I’ve had great people to work with,” he said. “It really is a family. I have an extreme appreciation and confidence in my IT (Information Technology) staff that does all of the heavy lifting. I’ll miss working with those folks.
“But (retiring) just seems right. I feel real comfortable with my decision to retire now.”
And how does Neal think SCC employees will remember him?“My hope would be they remember me as a capable administrator and a person of integrity who cares about SCC and SCC’s Milford Campus,” he said. “I hope my wry sense of humor will be remembered as well!”