May 10, 2021

EVERYBODY LOVED NEAL!

Any photo of J. Neal Ensminger is easily recognized by that slight tilt of his head!  This first one was obviously a graduation photo—perhaps grammar school.  This gangly teenager would go on to be an exception to Jesus’ words, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (Mark 6:4). He was consistently recognized and honored in his hometown of Athens, and also by his family.

His father John was a brother of my grandmother, Evalee Ensminger Cate. He and his wife Maggie always lived in his family home as did his unmarried sister Effie Mae. He graduated from McMinn County High School and then Tennessee Wesleyan College.  

His first newspaper job (after working several years in the grocery business) was as an advertising salesman for the local newspaper, Daily Post Athenian. He had a successful half-century there, moving up as general manager and by 1962, he became executive editor.  Neal never learned to type and wrote out all his news stories and editorials in longhand.  He definitely had a way with words!  He was honest and kind, had a great sense of humor, was well-informed and wanted the very best for his fellow citizens.

Neal was constantly speaking to groups of students (he gave a series of lectures to my high school civics class), and civic clubs.  He was a Lay Minister in the United Methodist Church and taught an adult Sunday school class (which was also broadcast on the local radio station) at Keith Memorial for 50 years.

It’s hard to imagine that there was anyone who didn’t admire Neal.  He was always in demand as a speaker for public events, to perform weddings and conduct funerals.  

He was a huge New York Yankees fan and one year when I was in high school the community surprised him at a football game by presenting him and Maggie tickets for an all-expense paid trip to New York City to watch the Yankees in the World Series!

Years later the community honored them again with a trip to the Holy Land. He won the city’s first Man of the Year Award—and it is now named for him.

When he retired in 1987, he wrote this in a farewell editorial: “It is time to end this scribbling (I never did learn to type). And it’s good to ease out in the spring, not summer when it’s sultry and simmering, not winter when it’s cold and harsh, not fall when it’s lovely and fading, but in the spring, when the season is new, the future beckons and the days are filled with promise. So it’s thank you time… thanks to everybody for 50 fulfilling, satisfying years in newspaper…one of, if not the best, professions in the nation.” 

He continued to write a popular weekly column, “Window Views,” taught his Sunday School class, and took care of his hometown folks.  He died at home at 92, and his wife Maggie died two months later. He was such a treasure!

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