Edwin Eugene Neeley
Tremont - Edwin “Gene” Neeley, age 97, passed away peacefully at his home in Tremont on Saturday, November 19, 2022. He was born November 28, 1924, in Mackinaw, Illinois to St. Elmo and Blanche (Peavler) Neeley.
He married Mary Elizabeth Cooper on September 14, 1946 in Pekin. She preceded him in death in June of 2012 after 65 years of marriage. Gene is also preceded in death by his three brothers and four sisters.
Surviving is his only child and daughter, Ronda Daily; son-in-law, Craig Daily; granddaughter, Ashley Stegall; her husband, Brad Stegall; and his great granddaughter, Samantha Grace Stegall.
Gene enlisted in the Army in April 1943. His service took him through Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium. Upon returning home in 1945, he felt the call to join the Air National Guard and was one of the founding servicemen for the 169th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He spent the next 20 years dedicated to his service until retiring in 1966.
His civilian work included bartending, truck driving, 18 years at Keystone Steel and Wire, then finally working in the RV business. During that time, Gene and Mary traveled to almost all 50 states enjoying the outdoors, meeting new people, and ending their evenings around the campfire.
It was in October 2012 that he found his true calling. After experiencing an Honor Flight with his granddaughter Ashley at the age of 87, he went in search of a way to help his fellow veterans find the joy he had experienced on the flight. Beginning his work with the Greater Peoria Honor Flight was what kept him young. His new life mission, evident by his unrelenting drive, was to make sure every WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veteran could enjoy “one last flight with honor”. He was an avid fundraiser, an untiring volunteer, and an amazing friend to so many.
During the past 10 years, he has received the Greater Peoria Honor Flight Ambassador of Good Will Award, the American Red Cross Heartland Hero Award, and the Daily Point of Light award. A huge highlight of the past decade was receiving the Legion of Honor medal, the highest French recognition for extraordinary bravery for his service during World War II and his role in helping to liberate the French citizens. In 2019, he enjoyed an extraordinary trip to France with his best friend, Phyllis to both celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and be honored by the people of France.
He loved helping people and would often do so with his uncanny ability to fix anything. He will be remembered for his work ethic, tenacity, tough-as-nails attitude, and the infamous “thumbs up”. His family is grateful to all who have been involved in his life, especially these past few years. He did what he loved with the people he respected, and passed as he lived: honorably and simply.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Greater Peoria Honor Flight (www.greaterpeoriahonorflight.org). Davis/Oswald Funeral Home in Tremont is in charge of arrangements (www.davisoswaldfh.com).
Gene’s visitation will be Wednesday, November 30th from 4-8pm. His funeral service will be Thursday, December 1st at 11am by Reverend Chris Chambers. Gene will be honored with a full military burial at Dillon Cemetery immediately following the funeral service. An additional visitation hour will precede the funeral services from 10-11am. All services will be held at the Tremont United Methodist Church.
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