Henry Thomas Neel (“Tom”) passed away in Klamath Falls, Oregon on April 22, 2020.
Tom was born in The Dalles, Oregon on January 26, 1937, the son of Scott Davis Neel and Ruth Livsey Neel. He grew up in Condon, Oregon and graduated from Condon High School in 1955. He attended the University of Oregon and in 1961 graduated from Eastern Oregon College in LaGrande, Oregon. He later obtained a master’s degree from Idaho State College in Pocatello, Idaho.
A competitor even when young, Tom became the 1948 Oregon State Marble Champion. As a Condon Blue Devil, he lettered in basketball, track, football, and his favorite sport, baseball. Tom is a member of Oregon’s 50-point club, being the first high school player to score 50 points in a single game in the 1955 season. He set that record before the three-point shot was instituted and despite sitting out the first quarter with a twisted ankle.
Tom attended the University of Oregon on a basketball scholarship. He later transferred to Eastern Oregon College where he was named to the first team Oregon Collegiate All-Conference team in 1959 and named to the second team all-conference in 1958 and 1961. In 1961 he was the 7th highest collegiate scorer in the Northwest. One of his greatest thrills was playing in the first college game ever held at Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Following his collegiate career, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted and invited Tom to participate in the organization’s annual rookie tryout camp.
Tom became a high school teacher and coach for eight years, beginning in Burley, Idaho. There he met and married the girl next door, Patty Janak. Tom taught and coached basketball and football in North Powder and Nyssa, Oregon.
In 1969, Tom and his brother David started two wholesale beverage distributorships, Neel Distributing, Inc. and A&Q Distributing, Inc. Their territory covered most of central Oregon from Klamath Falls to The Dalles. After one year in business, Blitz Weinhard Brewing Company awarded his company for the highest sales increase in the state. Later the Neel team helped the Budweiser brand become the number one seller in the state. His company was also a pioneer in Oregon’s craft beer business. Tom retired and sold the business in 2007.
Tom loved the Klamath Basin and regularly sponsored Oregon Tech athletics, Kingsley Field Air Base events, Yacht Club Races, Klamath’s American Legion Baseball, Rocky Mountain Elks, Ducks Unlimited, and many other community organizations. He helped facilitate the Portland Trailblazers’ first exhibition game in Klamath Falls. And in the 1980’s, though unsuccessful, Tom worked to bring an NWL professional baseball team to Klamath Falls.
Tom and Patty were blessed with a daughter, Heidi and a son, Scott. Tom was a proud and loving husband and father. His grandson Thomas was his pride and joy. His love of family combined with a deep interest in history, Tom relished being a fifth generation Oregonian, his ancestors arriving by wagon train in the Oregon territory in 1854.
A member of Reames Country Club for over 40 years, Tom was an avid golfer and shot a 74 at age 76. He was a longtime member of the Condon Elks Club. Tom grew up fishing and hunting big game and birds with his dad and later in life loved doing the same with his son and friends at his mountain cabin in eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains.
Tom and Patty loved their travels with family and friends. He looked forward to annual family vacations, with Sun Valley, Idaho always his favorite. And every year found them in Hawaii and their home in Arizona.
Tom was fiercely devoted to his friends, rarely withheld a helping hand, and never knew a stranger. He loved the Oregon Ducks, reading books of all kinds, and telling a good story with family and friends.
John David Burns, Tom’s lifelong friend and former president of the Oregon State Senate, said upon learning of Tom’s death, “In the fifth grade he was the best basketball player on the grade school team and by the eighth grade he was the best player on the varsity team. But Tom’s defining characteristics were that he was always the kindest, most generous and humble player on the team.”
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Patty Janak Neel, son Scott Neel, daughter Heidi Neel Biggs, son-in-law Andrew Biggs, grandson Thomas, brothers-in-law Don (Mary Fern) Janak and Jim Janak, and numerous nieces and nephews. Tom is preceded in death by his parents Scott and Ruth Neel, brother, David, and his infant son Michael.
Due to corona virus restrictions a service is not possible at this time. The family will hold a celebration of life when the quarantine is lifted.
Memorial Contributions may be made to the Tom Neel Memorial, Klamath Community Foundation (P.O. Box 1903, Klamath Falls, OR 97601 or klamathcommunityfoundation.org).
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