March 25, 1929 - April 24, 2021
Former Carbondale Mayor Neil Dillard died in Carbondale Memorial Hospital on April 24 at the age of 92. The depth, breadth and length of Neil’s service to Carbondale and his native Southern Illinois will be celebrated with a public gathering at the Carbondale Civic Center on Sunday, May 23, 2021 at 2pm. Neil was a local boy made good, and he became a good man who always gave his best and looked for the best in others. He grew up on the outskirts of West Frankfort, where his dad was a coal miner and his parents owned and operated a grocery store. Neil met his future wife, Mary Ellen Donahue, at a junior high school basketball game. Mary Ellen was his only girlfriend; they were married for 63 years. Neil was a standout student and athlete at Frankfort Community High School, receiving an all-state honorable mention in football, and was recruited to play at McKendree College. He juggled playing sports with helping in his parents’ grocery store, delivering morning newspapers and ice, and building a house for the family with his dad, a self-taught carpenter. Neil worked his way through college, graduating from Southern Illinois University (SIU) in 1951. He was then drafted by the US Army, and served as a cryptographer in Heidelberg, Germany, during the Korean War. Initially planning a career in the private sector, Neil became a salesperson for Texaco Oil in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Returning to Southern Illinois for a master’s degree in business at SIU, Neil decided to take on an administrative role with the university, then under the leadership of visionary President Delyte W. Morris. Neil and Mary Ellen moved to Carbondale in 1964, and Mary Ellen became an eighth-grade teacher as the Carbondale public school system was desegregating. They immediately appreciated the diversity of Carbondale and SIU, and became actively involved within their respective careers in advancing inclusivity for residents and students. Neil went on to hold a succession of posts at SIU in auxiliary enterprises, institutional research and studies and economic development during a period that coincided with the university’s rapid physical growth and peak enrollment. He and Mary Ellen deeply invested themselves in the health of the community and university for over fifty years. They received numerous individual honors and were jointly honored by the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Carbondale for their substantial and consistent contributions to civic life. Neil served on the Carbondale City Council for six years, then was elected mayor for four consecutive terms (16 years), making him the longest-serving mayor in Carbondale history. He never missed a city council meeting (457 of them), as mayor between 1987 and 2003. Neil was a true servant leader, dedicated to the common good and crediting others for the many accomplishments during his time in office, including redevelopment and renewal of the University Mall, construction of the Carbondale Civic Center/City Hall, renovation of the historic railroad depot, development of the Town Square Pavilion, construction of a state-of-the-art water plant and improvements to both wastewater treatment plants. Neil set a high standard for town-gown and intergovernmental relationships, including responsibility for the creation of CCU (city, chamber and university) meetings, establishment of an annual city council meeting on the SIU campus, and active solicitation of students for city boards and commissions. Neil was committed to building partnerships with other governmental units to benefit the city, including cooperating with Carbondale Community High School District 65 on financing of a new high school, and joining Carbondale Elementary School District 95 and the Carbondale Park District on the development of the Superblock. Neil was dedicated 24/7 to Carbondale. He maintained a listed home phone number — taking calls from residents at all hours — and often heard their concerns while working in his yard, grocery shopping at Schnucks or attending a concert or theatre performance with Mary Ellen. He selflessly represented and promoted Carbondale as a board member and former president of the Illinois Municipal League, board member of the National League of Cities (NLC), and founding member of the NLC’s Small Cities Council and University Communities Caucus. He was past president of the Southern Illinois Mayors Association and a founding member of the Carbondale Business Development Corporation and Jackson County Business Development Corporation. In addition, he helped to launch a coal mining museum and to restore an historic family cemetery in Herrin. Neil was a longtime fan of Saluki basketball, especially during the Rich Herrin era, and was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame as a friend of basketball. According to former Coach Herrin, Neil was known to clear ice and snow off coaches’ and players’ cars while he waited for the team to arrive at the airport following away games. After retirement, Neil developed a passion for golf, playing regularly with an experienced senior group at the Carbondale Park District’s Hickory Ridge Golf Course. He joined these fine men for coffee, lunch and dinner — even for bingo — for many years. He was affectionately called “Down the Middle Dillard”, because his unusual swing often resulted in balls hit straight down the middle of the fairway. Neil was his genuine self in any setting, and his word was his bond. If he was to be somewhere, he was there — always early. Neil quietly observed when help might be needed in a situation — whether a good word, a full gas tank or grape sorting in a vineyard at the crack of dawn — and he made himself useful, without fanfare. Neil is survived by his daughter, Tracy Dillard, and her longtime partner, Todd Dietterle, Cobden and Chicago, IL; granddaughters Leah Dietterle (Kelly Biscuso), Brooklyn, NY and Laurel Dietterle, Chicago, IL; grandson Luke Dietterle (Katie Molitor), Columbia, MO; granddog, Rainey, Cobden, IL; great-granddaughter Isabelle Biscuso, Brooklyn, NY; sister-in-law Ann Dillard, Carbondale, IL; niece Sue Irvin (Kenny), Benton, IL; nephews Dick Donahue (Donna), Decatur, IL; Jim Donahue (Barbara), Highland, IL; David Donahue (Veronica), Manassas, VA; Doug Dillard, Evansville, IN; Brad Dillard (Kathy), Carterville, IL; Steve Collins (Calli Holaway), Monument, CO; Kevin Collins (Jana Schrimsher Collins), Brentwood, TN; Jeff Collins (Brian Beach), Athens, AL. Neil was preceded in death by his parents, Burlis and Tom Dillard; wife, Mary Ellen Dillard; sister, Barbara Collins; brother, Dale Dillard; nephew, Wes Dillard; and granddogs, Feliz and Annie. In lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Neil may be made to two organizations with which he and Mary Ellen were integrally involved: Carbondale Community Arts and Southern Illinois Music Festival. Checks should be made payable to “Carbondale Community Arts,” with “Neil and Mary Ellen Dillard Fund” in the memo line; or “SIU Foundation” with “SIFest-Dillard Memorial” in the memo line. All checks may be mailed to the Dillard home at 500 South Oakland, Carbondale, IL 62901. Crain Pleasant Grove-Murdale Funeral Home assisted the family with arrangements.
Former Carbondale Mayor Neil Dillard died in Carbondale Memorial Hospital on April 24 at the age of 92. The depth, breadth and length of Neil’s service to Carbondale and his native Southern Illinois will be celebrated with a public gathering... View Obituary & Service Information
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