Going home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 1999


Wednesday, April 07, 1999

Dr. Harry B. Neel returned home to Greensboro, N.C., recently for a tribute to what he still calls his &uot;greatest accomplishment.&uot;

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Neel, of Albert Lea, was honored March 18 at the Old North State Council’s annual Eagle Scout Recognition Banquet. The banquet honored boys from that area who made the Eagle in 1998. Neel was Greensboro’s first Eagle Scout, having earned the honor in 1921 at age 15. He was also the first Eagle Scout in the eight-county area now comprising the Old North State Council.

He spent that morning at the council headquarters. A display case beside the entrance contains a tribute to Neel, including a photo of him and other members of Troop 5 in brown uniforms and Smokey the Bear hats. It was taken in 1920, the stained glass windows of First Baptist Church, the troop’s sponsor, in the background.

He recalled his Scoutmaster, Frank Casper, and the constant help he gave Neel as he earned the many merit badges needed to be an Eagle.

Today, Neel said, Scouts need to do a special project to earn the Eagle Scout honor. In his day, Scouts had to earn a number of specified merit badges and another optional badge before being named an Eagle. Only 2 percent, or two out of every 100 boys who join the Scouts, make Eagle.

Neel said he received the special invitation to the ceremony back in October, when he was in the Greensboro area visiting a cousin. At that time he was asked to come to the Boy Scout headquarters, was interviewed and asked for any memorabilia he had from his Scouting days. It was from that information that the display was made, and a special page dedicated to him in the banquet’s program.

Neel said there were about 500 people at the meeting, including the 106 boys who had earned the Eagle Award last year. In appreciation, they gave Neel a Boy Scout handbook which they all had signed.

When Neel addressed the group, he said he tried to emphasize the Scout Oath and Scout Laws, 12 rules to live by.

&uot;I urged the Scouts to bear those in mind,&uot; he said, adding they’re something he’s lived by for all of his 92 years.

&uot;When I was job seeking, I always let it be known I was an Eagle Scout,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s a great organization. Down there, it’s very active. And there are many important men taking part in it,&uot; he said of the current Scoutmasters and sponsors, who are matched with the Scouts according to their future career choices.

Neel also had the opportunity to attend two Rotary meetings during his stay, one in High Point and one in Greensboro. He has been a Rotarian since 1941.

Neel was born in Florida in 1906 and moved to Greensboro when he was 6 years old. On his 12th birthday, he joined Troop 5. He sold war bonds at the end of World War I, leading the city in sales, and also won the &uot;Ace&uot; medal from the U.S. Treasury Department in 1919 for selling more Liberty Bonds than any other Scout in Greensboro.

His mother, Bessie, was a powerful influence in his life, Neel said, filling the void left after his father died of tuberculosis when Harry was 5. At that time, the Neel family lived in Asheville, N.C., where Bessie Neel worked as a collector for the Internal Revenue Service. When the office relocated to Greensboro in 1912, she and Harry moved with it.

From Greensboro, Neel went on to Washington & Lee University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1928. He enrolled in medical school at Johns Hopkins and later spent four years at the Mayo Clinic.

With the coming of World War II, Neel joined the Naval Medical Corps for four years, serving at Pearl Harbor and other parts of the South Pacific. After the war, he rejoined the surgical clinic he had helped to found in Albert Lea, pioneering a number of surgical techniques in this part of the country.

Neel was the first board certified surgeon in southern Minnesota outside the Mayo Clinic and the 719th candidate to be certified by the American Board of Surgery.

He introduced sodium pentathol to his operating rooms shortly after it was used for the first time at the Mayo Clinic; he recruited a surgical pathologist from the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine to introduce frozen section techniques in the pathology lab of Naeve Hospital; and after taking several courses, he introduced modern respiratory therapy and a large number of other modern surgical support services to Naeve.

Neel’s practice encompassed the entire breadth of the specialities, including general abdominal, endocrine, colon and rectal, urology, orthopedics, gynecology and pediatric surgery.

Neel was a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and was president of the Minnesota Surgical Society.

He retired from his medical practice in 1983.

His son, H. Bryan Neel, is an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Mayo Clinic. His daughter, Maja, is a graduate of Cornell University. There are also several grandchildren.

His hobbies include gardening, computers and reading.

Neel told a Greensboro newspaper that he has no intention of letting the pride he feels about being an Eagle Scout – and Greensboro’s first – die with him. He has a promise from his son.

&uot;My tombstone will say ‘Eagle Scout.’&uot;