A Living Legend
It’s town meeting. A teacher walks on stage to make an announcement. Before he can get a single word out, the crowd erupts into enthusiastic applause, refusing to be hushed for what seems like eternity but is probably closer to a solid minute or two. As it dies down, someone screams and the applause starts all over again. This reaction sums up how the Springs community feels about Dr. Neely, and thus it is with great sadness—not the boisterous cheers of that town meeting—that we must part with him this year.
Since I first came to Springs, I have heard amazing things about the legendary Dr. Neely. I’d see him walking around campus, always smiling, often accompanied by one of his friends from the iconic “senior squad” here at Springs (Dr. Neely, Mr. Fleming, Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Lacasse). Now that I have the privilege to take one of his classes, I definitely agree that it’s worth the hype. I’ve never met a teacher so enthusiastic and passionate about both what and to whom he teaches. He trusts his students and wants them to learn because they are interested instead of pressured, and he makes wanting to learn incredibly easy. Eleventh grader Constantine Giattina remarked to me that “he’s probably one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my entire life. . . . He’s had so many cool experiences, and he backs up what we learn in class with stories and experiences and that’s what’s so great about his teaching.” Senior Katie Wiatrack is also a huge fan of Dr. Neely, explaining to me that “you can tell that every word has meaning to him. He brought life to a subject that I wasn’t previously engaged in, and he took every opportunity to get us interested. . . . I don’t think I’ll ever have a teacher like Dr. Neely again.”
Dr. Neely has definitely had too many “cool experiences” to count, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon. He’ll retire this year with 43 years of teaching under his belt: 30 at the university level, four years teaching in Mexico, and 11 here at Springs. While at Springs, he has taught AP US History and a variety of other courses ranging from Japanese history to Civil War and Reconstruction. When I asked if he was sad to stop teaching, he did admit that he’ll miss the students and being in the classroom after he leaves: “I’ve been teaching so long that even now it’s kind of hard to imagine not doing it.” Dr. Neely explained that while he wanted to teach a couple more years, he’ll have more time for the various other things he’s a part of, including giving tours at Sloss Furnaces, spending more time with the Alabama Civil War Round Table, speaking at private clubs and events, working on his 70-acre farm in North Alabama, and—of course—continuing to grow his successful antique business. He assured me, laughing: “I’ll have plenty to do, don’t worry about it.” Dr. Neely also told me that he could serve as an adjunct professor at UAB or Birmingham Southern if he so desired. He may be officially retiring, but he’s far from quitting what he loves.
Just because Dr. Neely is content with the cap on his career as a teacher doesn’t make it any less hard for us students; many are devastated that they won’t have his classes in the future and will miss his stories and advice. Yet, Dr. Neely is confident that we will thrive without him, encouraging us with a last piece of advice to “go ahead and keep doing the things that you’re doing to become more independent thinkers.” He also says that he plans to come back to school to visit, fish in the lake, and eat lunch with his friends: we haven’t seen the last of him yet.
After my class walked around the lake with Dr. Neely the other day, learning about World War II, we all came to the consensus that he truly embodies what it means to be a teacher at Springs. He’s dedicated to the mission of “learning through living” and ensuring that we thrive as independent thinkers who want to take learning beyond the classroom. Outside the classroom, he has proven himself an exemplary citizen by leading the fencing team, organizing the fishing tournament, assisting the bowling team, leading the Springs trivia team to a huge victory, and so much more. The impact Dr. Neely has made on this community will be felt long after he has left—I think the applause speaks for itself.
--Abigail Shepherd '19