Neal Woodruff, 95, a loving husband and father, gifted teacher, lover of literature and jazz, conservationist, and community leader, passed away Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Lewisburg, from complications of COVID-19.
Over the course of his long life, Neal was a good friend to many people. He was a kind person with a generous spirit and a strong humanitarian streak who enjoyed good food among good company.
Neal lived to learn and he also enjoyed helping others cultivate their own knowledge.
He was a college English professor for more than 35 years. After retiring and moving to Lewisburg in 1991, he continued to share his love of literature with others, participating in a book club and a reading group. He was a long-time supporter and board member of the Union County Library, served on the Union County Planning Commission for a decade and a half and was involved in the Merrill W. Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy, which honored him with a service award in 2002. He was an active member of the Joseph Priestly Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Lewisburg.
Neal was born in Kansas City, Missouri on April 16, 1925. His father was a realtor, his mother worked at home and was active in local social organizations. He attended high school in Kansas City and as a young man was introduced to the music of Count Basie and other musicians, kindling a love of jazz that he nurtured his entire life.
He attended the University of Kansas as an undergraduate, initially studying chemistry and ultimately graduating with a degree in English. He did his graduate work at Yale University, earning a master's degree and PhD in English literature. That's also where he met his future wife, Christine Lipps.
In 1952 he got his first teaching position in the Department of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He taught there for 16 years, developing a teaching style that engaged students by asking questions and encouraging lively discussion, rather than giving traditional lectures. It was during this period that he became a frequent visitor to central Pennsylvania where Chris's aunt and uncle built a cabin in the mid 1950s. Neal and his young family often traveled to visit the cabin on long weekends and summer vacations.
In 1968, he moved to a small liberal arts college where he dedicated himself to teaching and curriculum development as the chairman of the English department at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Coe students honored him several times in an annual poll to select the most popular professor on campus. A number of his students remain dear friends to this day.
Neal was active in the Modern Language Association of America, the professional organization devoted to strengthening the teaching of language and literature. He was elected head of the Association of Departments of English within the MLA, where he advocated that professors teaching undergraduates should devote less effort to publishing academic papers and more to honing the art of teaching.
Neal enjoyed traveling and learning about other lands and cultures, often through the lens of literature and the arts. He led a group of students on a foreign study trip to Russia, prompted by his interest in Russian literature, and ventured to China on an Elderhostel trip with friends. He continued to travel well into retirement, visiting Europe numerous times and often participating in classes about art and culture. He had a lifelong interest in architecture, a focus of many trips, both in America and abroad.
When he retired from Coe College, he and Chris bought a home in Lewisburg, knowing they wanted to enjoy the ambiance of a small town with an active university community where he could continue enjoying theater productions and live music performances. The move also brought them close to their beloved cabin near Penns Creek, west of Weikert where he enjoyed taking walks and sitting on the porch reading. Visitors could count on those activities, as well as joining games of pinochle.
Neal's enjoyment of the outdoors extended far beyond the family cabin. He took up camping in the 1960s during family vacations. For more than four decades, he often spent summers exploring America's wild and beautiful places with his wife Chris (and two children, until they became adults), crisscrossing the country in a succession of three different Volkswagen campers. Over time he became an ardent conservationist.
Neal is survived by Chris, his wife of 68 years, in Lewisburg; a daughter, Sukie, in State College; a son, David, in Basel, Switzerland; two grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
A memorial gathering will be held when it becomes possible to do so safely.
To honor Neal's love of books, reading and learning, gifts in Neal's memory may be made to the Public Library of Union County.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Neal Woodruff, please visit our floral store.