Headmaster’s Thoughts – February 2012

Neal Neuhaus: In Memoriam

[The following was a speech delivered on January 11, 2012, during York Prep’s memorial service for Math teacher Neal Neuhaus.]

We are all here today to remember and celebrate the life of our friend and teacher Neal Neuhaus. As you know, Neal passed away last week after a very brave fight with pancreatic cancer.

Neal was an extraordinary man. This afternoon, you will hear from others, but I can personally say that I have never, ever met anyone quite like him. He never said an unkind word about anybody, he never gave up on students; indeed, he dedicated himself to giving all of his students a belief in themselves, particularly in math.

He came to York Prep in 1976 as an already experienced teacher, having graduated several years earlier from Hunter College. From the first day, it was obvious that this was a teacher with enormous gifts of communication and compassion. Students loved him and he loved them back. He never had a discipline problem simply because his students wanted to make him happy and also recognized their good fortune to be in his class.

While he was here, he met another math teacher, Mandy Gersten, who became his closest and dearest friend for the rest of his life. To her, all of us offer our profound sympathy.

In the old building on East 85th Street, Neal had the largest and probably best classroom in the place. It was on the second floor in the front, and it was large because his was the class you wanted to be in, whether you were strong or weak in math. You got a teacher who always smiled and encouraged, a teacher who had endless patience in his explanation, and a teacher who was always on your side. When we moved to our new building, it was obvious that once again, for the same reasons, he would need the largest room, and so he got the large room in the front of the building on the second floor. The admissions department made sure that prospective parents and students saw Neal’s class very early on their tour.

The power that Neal had to transform his students into successful math students was extraordinary. Over the last few days, I have received letters from alumni telling me how he changed their lives and, in some cases, how he inspired them to become math teachers and how they aspired to offer his same magic.

As a colleague, Neal was as warm and optimistic about everyone as he appeared to students. He was Head of the Math department and assistant to the Deans, but he could never really tell off a student; he was just so kind and compassionate. In fact, he far preferred to give awards and compliments. Jayme, who shares with me our respect and affection for Neal, worked closely with him on graduation requirements. She loved his letters of recommendation for our seniors when they applied to college because he was so positive and passionate in their support. He looked forward to graduation in this sanctuary because it represented the success of his students, although he personally would miss them deeply when they went to college. He helped organize graduation, and then—something that gave him great personal pleasure—he gave out from this very podium the National Honor Society Awards to the graduates.

It is difficult to believe that Neal has passed away. He never complained about his illness and continued to smile at everyone when he visited, even though he was going through rough bouts of chemotherapy. The community that is York Prep was fortunate indeed that somehow Neal adopted us as his family. He always recognized the family nature of the ties he had to the school. Mandy tells me that Neal wanted to have gifts in his name given to the York Prep Scholarship Foundation. Even as he suffered, he thought of this school and our students.

Those of us who had him as a mentor, teacher, and colleague will know how privileged we were to have known Neal. If achievement in life is tallied, as I think it should be, by how many people you have helped, then Neal’s life was one of glorious achievement.

We who loved him will always remember him, and for students not yet in the school, we will put a plaque on that bright, large second floor classroom calling it the Neal Neuhaus Room, and if they ask, we will tell them how, for 35 years, we were blessed by the presence of the nicest man and the best math teacher you could ever meet.

 

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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