John “Jack” O’Neill

Life Trustee, John “Jack” O’Neill, 1920-2014
Jack O’Neill wasn’t a hard man to find. If you needed his time, though, the wait could be impossible.
issue 01 | spring 2015
In Memoriam: John "Jack" O'Neill

Every morning, O’Neill would hold court at the counter at the Bob Evans restaurant near Granville, eating his customary oatmeal and blueberries, and doling out sage counsel to all comers. People came to see O’Neill because, as one of the region’s founding fathers, he had answers. The son of Irish immigrants, he earned a degree at Yale on the GI Bill, and returned to Ohio in 1953 with his wife, Betsy, a Granville native whom he met in the Yale library.

In the cornfields which comprised much of Licking County, real estate developer O’Neill saw promise. His Southgate Development Corporation would go on to build 600 homes, 300 apartments, and a shopping center in Heath, Ohio. He would expand his development to Hebron and Newark, building several industrial parks there to attract businesses to the area and create thousands of jobs for the region. He would go on to create similar office industrial in Etna, Columbus, Cambridge, and Marysville, eventually serving as president of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks for two terms before being named director emeritus.

Mary Jane McDonald, former Denison vice president of development, notes that O’Neill was always gracious and warm, but could also be “tough as nails when he had to be.” She remembers a time when O’Neill wanted to attract a bank to one of his commercial locations, and

approached a local bank president to see if the leadership might consider opening a branch on the new property. The bank president balked, saying it couldn’t be done. “The next thing you know, that president gets a letter from the banking agency letting him know that there had been an application for another bank in the area,” says McDonald. “So they quickly built a branch.”

O’Neill and his wife Betsy established the John J. and Elizabeth E. O’Neill Scholarship Fund in 1997, which has provided scholarships for dozens of Denison students, and he was a member of the Granville Golf Course Company, which recently gave Denison the Granville Golf Course. O’Neill, a longtime board member of Park National Bank, had also served on Denison’s board since 1971, during which time he served a period as vice chair. Through the years, he put his real estate development skills to work for the College, helping guide the design and development of the campus as well as the College’s fiscal management. “Up until he could not get out of bed,” says McDonald, “he was coming to the board investment committee meetings.” And, dutifully, to the counter at Bob Evans, where the patrons would wait their turn for his wisdom. “He didn’t know a stranger,” says McDonald.

O’Neill died on Nov. 16, 2014. He was preceded in death in 2008 by his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Eaton O’Neill, who was a beloved community leader in her own right. He is survived by his daughter, Nancy O’Neill ’70; sons, Henry, John, Bill, and Robert; 11 grandchildren including Eaton O’Neill ’06; and two great-grandchildren.     

Published July 2015
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