May 26, 2003

Esther McNeil: Guided by Compassion, Practicality, and Generosity

Forget any 1930s movie version of what a 'benefactor' is. Like the many thousands of individuals whose generosity helps to secure Case's financial future, Esther McNeil is a lot more like you or me than we might have thought.

Esther McNeil's generous gifts are marked by the same senses of practicality and compassion that have guided her life. A nursing certificate in the late 1930s provided a practical career for a single, young woman in depression-ridden America. Army service a few years later was her compassionate response to war. As a nurse near Burma, she saw the ruinous effects of the fighting and tropical diseases that took young men's health and lives. "Seeing that was very hard," she says. "And, we operated all day long, sometimes at night. But, they never had to draft nurses," she says with pride.

Esther's dual sensitivity continued after the war, when she made the practical choice to take advantage of the GI Bill. Compassionately, she chose public health nursing as her field of study. Francis Payne Bolton School of Nursing's program was unique, with plenty of fieldwork and combined classes with city health nurses. She arrived at a campus filled to overflowing with ex-servicemen and women who were serious about what they wanted, and who challenged the faculty to provide it. But amid the crowding and the changing curriculum, there were heroes nevertheless. "Many were inspiring," says Esther, citing the progressive teacher, Esther Leihberger, as an example.

Esther's post-graduation career took her to Washington, D.C. as a public health nurse, to Minnesota for a graduate degree, and back into the Army during the Korean War. She left the service only upon retirement as a full colonel, and has since shaped a life guided by the same simple duality—do what is needed and do it with compassion.

Her gifts to the School have been considerable and unrestricted—expressing only a desire to perpetuate quality education at this University. Asked how she acquired sufficient wealth to benefit the School so generously, Colonel McNeil responds with spirited good humor, "Oh, they pay a Colonel pretty well." Asked why she chose the School of Nursing for her gifts, her response is dazzlingly spare yet typically practical, "Because they need it."

Posted by: Amy Raufman May 26, 2003 01:49 PM | Category: Endowment , Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing , Individuals , Planned Gifts , Priorities , Schools , Source