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‘Boisterous’: Remembering Joe Oscar Neuhoff, Life Trustee
Apr 23, 2024

There’s a story about the late Joe Oscar Neuhoff from his time at Industrial Metal Specialties, the fabrication shop he founded and led for decades. The way his longtime secretary told it to Bob Galecke, former vice president and interim president of the University of Dallas, the police caught a young Industrial Metals employee trying to scrap metal he’d stolen from the company. The employee said he needed the money to pay bills. The police asked Joe Oscar whether he wanted to press charges for theft. Joe Oscar said no, and he said he wasn’t going to fire the employee, either.

“Remember, this is the ’70s,” Galecke says. “Things were a little different. But Joe said to him, ‘Stay on, but I’m going to take money out of your paycheck each week until you pay it off.’ And he did.”

Joe Oscar’s colleagues at the University of Dallas say the campus will miss the same straightforward, strong but caring leadership he exercised in all arenas of his life. Affectionately brusque and deeply compassionate, Joe Oscar is remembered as a devout caretaker of his community and church.

Joe Oscar joined the Board of Trustees after his father stepped down in 1972 and worked steadfastly from that point onward to support faculty research, broaden program offerings and strengthen the university’s reputation. His service to the University of Dallas, spanning over 50 years, did not come to an end until he passed away on his birthday, March 8. Professor Richard Olenick, PhD, is one of several friends who were summoned to Joe Oscar’s house in the weeks before his death to discuss matters that to many of them appeared unusually mundane. Joe Oscar’s enduring keenness and care shines forth through accounts of these final meetings, in which meticulous notes and shipshape organization often recur as scenic details. Olenick was somewhat surprised to learn what Neuhoff wanted to discuss.

“He was concerned about the future of the Physics Department,” Olenick says. “He was so alert about all these details. … Really, he had the acumen of a very good businessman, so he knew where everything stood all the time.”

Olenick says he’s known three living saints at the University of Dallas. One he declines to name. The other was the late philanthropist Gene Vilfordi. The third, as Olenick told him personally, was Joe Oscar.

“He could be really gruff,” Olenick says, “but it’s the gruffness of a prophet, in a sense; of telling you to do something because you really need to do it.”

Galecke paints a similar picture. Coarse but devout, practical but evangelical, trained in engineering and invested in ministry, Joe Oscar hid a kind heart underneath a bluff exterior.

“He was a very kind and caring person. At times, if people didn’t know him, he could be a little gruff initially, but he didn’t mean it. That was just his style,” Galecke says.

A daily attendee of the morning Mass at Christ the King, Joe Oscar would reproach himself from time to time for letting a coarse word or two slip out: “Damn it,” he’d swear — “I just said a rosary.”

Asked to describe Joe Oscar’s character, former trustee and Board Chair Ray Wooldridge settles on one word: “Boisterous.”

“He was the real deal. Nothing devious. Always out front,” Wooldridge says. “He loved the school; no question about that.”

Like Olenick, former Trustee Mary Manning knows the experience of getting a call from Joe Oscar for a meeting that seemed urgent given the time. To Joe Oscar, of course, it was urgent.

“Three years ago this Thanksgiving, Joe Oscar had called me the day before Thanksgiving and said, ‘I want you to come to my house and have lunch, and I want to talk to you about a few things.’ That was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and that’s kind of a semi-holiday to a lot of people. … But Joe Oscar wanted to meet for lunch, so I went and I brought lunch. And three hours later, I left with a long list of ideas,” Mary said.

“He was just always thinking about the university. … He loved the University of Dallas.”

Along with faculty research, Joe Oscar was at heart concerned with the formation of students.

“Whenever we would have current students come to speak at board meetings, he would light up,” said former board chair and Emeritus Trustee Richard Husseini, JD, BS ’88. “He would frequently comment that this is what it’s about; this is what we’re doing. I think he really felt an imperative to affect students’ lives.”

Even so, aside from the Ann & Joe O. Neuhoff Institute for Ministry and Evangelization — actually named after Joe Oscar’s parents — he served the university almost anonymously. Before the ministry programs adopted the Neuhoff name in 2007, the typical UD student might have constantly enjoyed the fruits of Joe Oscar’s advocacy — through experiments in the Haggerty Science Center, or during discussions of health care ethics in ministry courses — without knowing who had worked to make those experiences possible.

“Whether they knew it or not, Joe Oscar had such a positive influence on all of the students that came through the University of Dallas over the years,” former trustee and Board Chair Harry Longwell says. “He did everything for the interest of the university.”

Budding astronomers who notched their first observatory experience at UD’s Colorado lab, deacons who trained to serve their church in dioceses from Beaumont to Portland, and undergraduates who enjoy a university still faithful to Christ are only a few of those who owe Joe Oscar their thanks.

“Joe Oscar was truly one of a kind,” says University President Jonathan J. Sanford, PhD. “At the heart of his distinctive personality lay a heart as good as they come. The University of Dallas is blessed in ways beyond counting by his devotion, good counsel and generosity, poured out continuously over more than a half century of service.”

At their last meeting, Olenick says Joe Oscar left him with a few ideas and a tongue-in-cheek threat.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna send bolts down at you,’” Olenick laughed. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t think I could stand that.’ … He had a fulfilling life.”

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