While growing up in Iowa, John McNeil experienced some pretty harsh winters. However, at the age of 8, he learned that other children had it worse than he did.
“This was a lesson I learned in the 3rd grade,” McNeil recalled. “It was cold as the dickens in Iowa, below zero. My mother had put a string on my mittens so I wouldn’t lose them. I hung them up in the cloakroom [at school], these brand-new mittens. And then one day, they weren’t there. I got angry because someone took my mittens, I made a big fuss for two or three days. Finally, the teacher called me over. ‘Do you want your mittens?’ she asked. ‘You bet I want my mittens.’
“So, she told me where to go, and I went trudging through the snow. I came upon this little house that had a tar-paper roof. This little lady came out with all these kids, and she held these mittens. I realized right away that that woman was in a desperate situation. I just felt ashamed of myself for making a big noise, not knowing what I was doing. This little boy in my room had taken them, of course. I never forgot that.”
An awareness of those who need help has been a common thread throughout McNeil’s career. For the last three years, the World War II veteran and UCLA professor emeritus of education, who turns 99 today, co-taught a course with UCLA lecturer and former student Octavio Pescador on entrepreneurial philanthropy. UCLA undergrads worked on projects of their own invention that address issues including health, the environment, and reducing inequality.
Read the full story about McNeil as he reflects on his six decades at UCLA and looks forward to its centennial.