Daily Times reports: MC alumni, friends build outdoor classroom in honor of young alumnus

Buckskin Scout Reservation Boy Scout Summer Camp program director, Eagle Scout with highest honors, Order of the Arrow’s Vigil Honors.

Class of 2010 Hurricane High School (Hurricane, W.Va.) valedictorian, Maryville College graduate in 3 1/2 years, Clemson University teaching assistant.

Outdoor classroom inspiration.

Andrew Taylor O’Neil’s legacy will live and thrive outside Sutton Science Center, thanks to a group of Kin Takahashi Week volunteers who built an outdoor classroom in his memory this past week. The outdoor classroom has a covered blackboard on the lowest of three tiers, each bearing picnic tables.

O’Neil, who graduated from Maryville College in December 2013, died unexpectedly Sept. 9, 2014. He was 23.

“Several months before he died, (father) Michael (O’Neil) asked him, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ Andrew said, ‘I’d like to leave a few lines on the pages of life,’” said mother Barbara O’Neil. “We’re here adding some lines on the pages of life.”

Fitting tribute

The outdoor classroom is a fitting tribute to Andrew, she said. “He had a huge love for the outdoors and teaching.”

Her son planned initially to teach science in a secondary school, Barbara O’Neil said. “He loved Boy Scouts, loved the outdoors. He had this idea as a high-schooler that he’d teach himself. He saw Scout leaders who served as teachers and spent their summers at camp. He wanted to do the same thing.”

However, she said his plans started to evolve while at Maryville College. “He received a quality education here. He also developed a great rapport with his instructors and peers. Every experience guided him, and Michael also taught our boys to give themselves options, especially in terms of a career. He always told them, ‘If you come home and don’t like your job, you’ve still got to go back the next day.’

“Andrew internalized those discussions,” Barbara O’Neil said. “He had the potential to go on at Clemson. His advisor, Dr. John Morse, asked him a couple weeks before he passed away, ‘What do you want to do?’ Andrew told him, ‘I want your job.’ Dr. Morse encouraged him, but Andrew wasn’t going to step into that role for a long time. He was going to learn from the best and work toward his goals.”

While her son will never physically educate and inspire students, she hopes that his legacy and the outdoor classroom dedicated in his memory will produce great teaching and learning. “Hundreds of students will come through this classroom, and I hope it changes their lives. Andrew’s passing has left a big void in our lives that can never be filled. However, our entire family is grateful that the college has been open to this idea. It’s a labor of love.”

Kin Takahashi Week

During the past week, more than 130 volunteers dedicated their time to more than 60 projects this week. They came from as far as the West Coast.

In addition to the outdoor classroom, volunteers dedicated their efforts to painting, pressure washing and repairing facilities across campus. Maryville College buys materials and provides room and board.

“It’s a great benefit to our campus,” said Dan Greaser, an alumnus who served 22 years on the college’s Board of Directors. “The college’s net value is three to four times more than its out-of-pocket expenses. I’d estimate that its added value has been more than $1 million in its 19 years.”

This story ran in The Daily Times on Sunday, June 14, 2015: http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/mc-alumni-friends-build-outdoor-classroom-in-honor-of-young/article_ffba476d-fc20-5cb2-bea0-20b0773b3331.html


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.