Written by Chrystal Houston '03
Some say history is written by the victors. Those around the York University campus know better.
History is written by Dr. Tim McNeese ’73.
The prolific author has penned more than 130 volumes on people, places, and events of historical significance--from world leaders, to epic battles, to the history of his own alma mater. McNeese has researched and recorded stories from a vast swath of human history, but there is one story he hasn’t widely told.
Before he was Dr. McNeese--professor, author, and occasional TV historian--he was just Tim from Springfield, Mo. His father knew Dale Larsen, then York College’s president, and felt strongly his son would benefit from the York Experience. Though Tim’s father only had an eighth grade education himself, there was no question in his mind that his son would be college-bound.
The summer before his senior year in high school, Tim met Beverly Doty when they were counselors at Happy Hollow Bible Camp. Each had attended the camp for years, but their paths hadn’t crossed before.
Sparks flew and the campfire romance that had been kindled continued to burn. Bev enrolled at York College as well, after having attended a year at Oklahoma Christian.
Tim thought about majoring in pre-law, but a history class with Dr. Robert Scott changed his mind--and the course of his life. “There are moments in life where you zig instead of zag,” he said. Moments when your plans take a back seat and a new adventure unfolds before you like a roadmap. “One person can make all the difference. You will never know the number of people you’ve impacted.” Dr. Scott, who taught at YC from 1961 to 1977, was one of those people for young Tim.
Following this new path, Tim and Bev tied the knot and finished their associate’s degrees at York College (then a two year school) before heading south. Tim completed his bachelor’s degree at Harding University in '75.
The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary last year.
Having passed the half century mark, they may have more silver hair and fine lines than when they were Bible camp sweethearts, but they also have something incredibly rare: a friendship that has endured the test of time. Through joys and sorrows, poverty and prosperity, health crises and professional accomplishments, kids and grandkids, and tens of thousands of miles logged on cross-country car trips, they remain devoted to each other. Until Bev retired in 2018 after 20 years of teaching English at York College, you rarely saw one without the other on campus--especially as they had adjacent offices in Hullitt Hall.
But that’s jumping ahead in the story.
McNeese's YC Yearbook Photo
After Harding, Tim taught public school in Missouri for 16 years. The couple was blessed with two children, Noah and Summer (both of whom later attended York College). While teaching English, history, social studies, and journalism, Tim also pursued a master’s degree at Missouri State University. He was beginning to dream of a writing career when the job at York College became available in 1992. It turned out to be a perfect fit. The more flexible schedule of a college professor allowed him to dedicate time to writing. His first book was published in 1993.
Since then, he’s managed a dual career, teaching a full course load three days of the week and working on writing projects the rest of the time. His books are mostly for middle school and high school audiences, but he has also written for adults, including his latest work William Henry Jackson’s Lens: How Yellowstone’s Famous Photographer Captured the American West, which was published in 2023.
McNeese Teaching at RoundUp
In 2022, he won the Nebraska Book Award for nonfiction biography for his book Time in the Wilderness: The Formative Years of John “Black Jack” Pershing in the American
West published through the University of Nebraska Press.
In addition to classroom instruction and writing about history, McNeese has also appeared in various TV episodes from “America: Fact vs Fiction” on the American Heroes Channel to “Risk Takers, History Makers,” on the History Channel. In 2017, he collaborated with a filmmaker at Nebraska Public Media on the full length documentary Pershing: Love and War, which aired on PBS. More recently, he appeared on the Curiosity Stream series, American Icons.
McNeese's mother passed away in 1993 and his father followed her into eternity the year after. “My one regret is that they never got to see all that I accomplished. I know they would have been proud,” he said.
He may be an award-winning author and TV personality, but McNeese is best known on campus as the history professor with an amazing recall of information and dramatic flair for storytelling that keeps his listeners engaged, no matter the topic. He draws his students in with sensory detail as well as a focus on the intimate human moments in large scale historical events. After one of his lectures, students don’t simply remember that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and that the Union Army was victorious--they also remember what it might have felt like to stand on the battlefield amid the chaos of war. Whether he’s teaching about the pyramids of Giza or the life of Martin Luther, his lectures come to life and ripple with relevance.
In his more than 30 years of teaching at York University, McNeese has touched countless students' lives, paying forward the blessing that Dr. Scott once gave to him.
One such student was Benj Clark ’02. Today, Clark is the curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., and the author of an Eisner Award-winning book on the Peanuts cartoonist. A history enthusiast from a young age, Clark said he had known for years he would major in history at York, but wasn’t sure how he would be able to translate that passion into a paycheck. “An ongoing influence was being able to see somebody do history as a career,” he said of McNeese. “That was helpful to me to see somebody not just teaching, but publishing for both the academic press as well as the popular market.”
McNeese gave Clark the tools to explore history for himself and taught him how to hone his writing craft. “He gave me some of the first opportunities to do new research in history, to dig into things that haven’t been dug into before…which is what I’ve built my whole career on,” he said.
Sisters and fellow history majors Jessica (Agler ’06) Addo and Rebecca (Agler ’14) Bland have similarly fond memories of McNeese’s classes.
“I can’t say that I had many great history teachers before Mr. McNeese,” said Addo, who is the purchasing manager for 10 branches of Kansas City Public Libraries. In high school, “They were mostly coaches first, history teachers second.” She was impressed by McNeese’s ability to weave together history and faith, whether he was providing historical context during a communion table talk on Sunday morning at East Hill Church of Christ, or providing a spiritual dimension to a history lesson; he was a Christian and an academic in all parts of his life.
Mrs. Lones, Rebecca (Agler) Bland , McNeese and Jessica (Agler) Addo
More than that, he was a trusted advisor. McNeese cheered her on as she completed two internships in D.C. and was a reference as she applied for jobs and graduate school.
“I felt that he was a friend as well as a respected teacher,” said Addo.
Bland, a youth services librarian with Omaha Public Libraries, remembers McNeese’s dynamic teaching style. She recalled sitting around the table in McNeese’s favorite conference room in the basement of Hulitt, listening to him lecture. “He was speaking from the depth of his knowledge and his own understanding, and it was pretty exciting to listen to. He made history come alive. He taught from stories,” she said. This is something Bland has brought into her own work, as she brings programs to the library, such as Lakota elders teaching tribal stories. “You can’t have a library without history,” she said.
Bland and Clark both recalled how much they appreciated McNeese’s chapel presentations. For Bland, a memorable talk was McNeese presenting on Sir Ernest Shackleton, the courageous arctic explorer and sea captain. That presentation inspired her to want to be a better leader, and is a topic she has revisited as she manages her staff.
Clark remembered one chapel where the scheduled speaker canceled at the last minute and McNeese was asked to fill in. He gave an impromptu talk about American presidents and fielded questions from the audience on the fly, demonstrating confidence as well as subject mastery as he kept the audience engaged and entertained through the program.
These stories reflect McNeese’s impact on the institution, which goes far beyond the classroom. “I’ve always looked for things to do that would add value,” he said. In 1996, he was part of the transition to the college becoming a four-year school and provided leadership in creating the degree plan for a bachelor’s degree in history. In 1999 and 2000, he led a group of students to conduct an excavation of Old Main, the campus building that burned down in 1951. It was an opportunity for history majors to get hands-on experience at a dig site without leaving campus. The artifacts they collected were on display for years in Hulitt Hall.
In the summers, McNeese regularly taught at Round Up, the “golden agers” Bible camp held on campus. For many years, he exercised his journalism chops to produce the school yearbook and was also involved in the student newspaper, The Panther Press, along with Bev.
McNeese was a leader in the conceptual design of the Clayton Museum of Ancient History on campus and currently serves on the museum council. He regularly presents museum lectures on various topics, including one in September of this year that he co-presented with his son, Lieutenant Noah McNeese, who is an historian as well as a Nebraska State Trooper. Both of McNeese’s children followed their parents in the field in some way: Noah majored in history at York College and later earned a master’s degree in history as well. Summer (now Dr. Dickinson), taught English at the college level, and now serves in the Nashville public school system working as a linguistic specialist.
In 2019, McNeese collaborated with Dr. Terry Seufferlein and Dr. Frank Wheeler on a temporary exhibit for the Clayton Museum called The Story of the Bible. McNeese and Seufferlein are currently working on a new exhibit on Ancient Greece, which will open in 2024.
The campus colleague he collaborated with most often, however, was Bev. The couple was responsible for developing a successful domestic study program that took students to museums, author’s homes, and historic sites, from the Southwest to New England over a 10-year span. They planned regular events and outings closer to home for humanities students, from museum trips to campus speakers and workshops. In 2012, they worked together to put on an immersive Titanic event to commemorate 100 years since the sinking of the ship. The evening included music, food, costumes, a lecture, and a mini-museum display. For the hundred or so guests, it was an unforgettable experience. For the McNeeses and the committee they organized, it was months of prep work.
2009 Alumni of the Year Award - Tim, Bev and Steve Eckman
In 2014, the couple collaborated with fellow faculty member Christi Lones to co-author a book ahead of York College’s 125th anniversary. "The lasting impact of Tim McNeese on the university, on the brotherhood, and on individuals like myself is truly incalculable,” said Lones, who taught with McNeese in the History Department for 15 years. “He served as a mentor, a teacher, an expert, a sounding board, an archivist, and so much more. The legions of students, faculty, and staff that he inspired are forever in his debt. I, for one, am grateful for his friendship and collegiality."
While McNeese’s focus tends to be the past, he is looking ahead to his next chapter. When he steps down from his role as professor of history after the fall semester, he will take on a new title at York University: Writer in Residence. From his office full of artifacts in Middlebrook Hall, he will continue to write and will also plan writer’s workshop events for students and the community. He will miss the classroom, he admits, especially teaching some of his favorite classes like Medieval Renaissance, and Western Civilization and the Civil War. However, he is excited about the increased flexibility he will have in the new role, as he and Bev hope to spend more time attending their grandchildren’s events and traveling.
Looking back on his career, McNeese summed it up simply. “I’ve been very blessed,” he said.
A grateful university echoes that sentiment. Thank you, Dr. McNeese, for the blessing you have been to this community. Your legacy will be felt on this campus and in the lives of your students for many years to come.
(By the way, Tim and Bev still work every summer at the Bible camp where they met.)
Hulitt Conference Room (Pre-Renovation) where McNeese held many classes and now named the "Tim McNeese Conference Room".
McNeese narrates the choir's Spring Works productions Still I Rise in 2022.
McNeese leads students in excavation of Old Main site in '99-'00.