McNeill to Receive St. Andrews Alumni Award
St. Andrews Presbyterian College recently presented the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award to a longtime music educator and civic leader in Hoke County.
"This award is the highest service award given by the Alumni Association to honor those who have provided outstanding service to their community," said college President Paul Baldasare. "This year's recipient, Mary Archie Brown McNeill, has been educating and inspiring students and the Hoke County community since her graduation from Flora Macdonald College in 1956."
McNeill received the award during the recent alumni banquet as she and her classmates celebrated their 55th class reunion as part of the St. Andrews Alumni Weekend festivities.
The St. Paul's native graduated cum laude with a bachelor of music degree, with concentrations in voice, music education and choral art. She started that fall in the Hoke County public schools to teach classroom music at the elementary and junior high levels. Married to Neill Adams McNeill, she took family leave when her son Neill Jr. was born.
She returned to teaching in 1960, with a position at the junior high level and a chance to direct the chorus at Hoke County High School. At that same time, she formed and directed the Hoke County Boys' Choir in an effort to get more young men of the area involved in singing and to build the high school chorus. Her return was so successful that she was named the 1961 Hoke County Teacher of the Year.
The high school program became a full-time position that included several chorus classes in addition to music theory. She prepared her choruses and individuals to participate in district and statewide festivals, competitions and the North Carolina Choral Institute. The success of her program led to numerous competition superior ratings and the group traveling to Europe to perform, a rarity at the time.
As shared by Lynn Maxwell in the nominations materials, "Mary Archie had only one priority, the youngsters. She assisted them in reaching their highest potential and never denied a child the opportunity to use their talents. Many of her former students now teach throughout this state and exemplify her teaching style, expertise, guidance and discipline. She sets the example we should all follow in the field of education, church or wherever, children first."
She retired from high school teaching in 1980 to become the cultural arts coordinator for the Hoke County school system. She spent 10 years in the position, writing numerous grants to benefit the arts and education in Hoke County. She also served on the Hoke County Arts Council and was president of the Hoke County Chapter of the North Carolina Symphony Board of Directors for eight years.
After retiring from the Hoke County school system in 1990, McNeill accepted the position of the director of the Sandhills Community College satellite campus in Hoke County in 1991. Under her direction, the program grew to involve nearly 200 local students.
She retired from this position in 1993 to dedicate more time to Leadership Hoke, a strategic planning committee dedicated to improving the quality of life, business growth and resources in Hoke County.
Her awards over the years have been numerous, including the 1989 N.C. Governor's Business for Education Award and the 1990 N.C. Governor's Volunteer Award.
In 2000, 150 of McNeill's former students returned to participate in ChoralFest 2000 in her honor. They created the Mary Archie McNeill Endowment Fund, which raised $50,000 in honor of her dedication and contribution to the arts in Hoke County. The interest from the foundation is used to enhance the choral arts program in Hoke County. A second ChoralFest reunion was held in 2005.
In 2004, she received the Raeford-Hoke Citizen of the Year Award. That same year the Hoke County Board of Commissioners honored her by naming an auditorium in the schools in her honor. Her work was also honored last year in Winston-Salem.
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