Marie Pongracz Neil

08/08/1937

11/25/2023

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Marie Pongracz Neil, 86, of Grand Rapids, MI, passed away on Saturday, November 25th after a life full of joyful memories, beloved family and friends, meaningful work, and dedication to significant issues of advocacy. Marie was predeceased by her husband, Richard (Dick) Neil who she was married to for 62 years, her parents, Edward and Hilda Pongracz, and her brother, Edward Pongracz, Jr. She is survived by her son, Ken Neil, daughter-in-law, Ami Neil, granddaughters, Kennedy Neil and Payton Neil and daughter, Emily Skinner, son-in-law, Ted Skinner, and grandchildren Bennett Skinner and Lilly Skinner. She is also survived by her brother, Ted Pongracz and sister-in-law, Sarah Pongracz. Additionally, she has multitudes of close friends who she considered her extended family originating from her decades spent in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bayfield, Ontario, and Marco Island, Florida. She was most well known for her outgoing personality, impeccable memory, quick wit, and boundless generosity. Marie was the quintessential hostess and always welcomed neighbors and friends, new and old. She kept up with world events and politics and was a gifted conversationalist.

Marie was born on August 8, 1937, in Grosse Pointe, MI. After she graduated from Grosse Pointe South in 1955, she attended the University of Michigan and earned her degree in Journalism. She met Dick her first day of college when he knocked on her door in Alice Lloyd Dormitory to check in on her roommate from his hometown, Schenectady, New York. They were married in Grosse Pointe, MI on June 26, 1959. Their Michigan marriage was a family tradition preceded by Dick’s parents and brother, and followed by their daughter, Emily.

Marie and Dick moved to New York City where she worked at Kresge’s in advertising. She was disenchanted by the blatant sexism in the workplace and returned to the University of Michigan to get her master’s degree in education.

Marie was a trailblazer for her entire life in advocating for women of all backgrounds, a favorite teacher for her elementary-aged students and later for the many teachers she trained for both Aquinas College and Western Michigan University. For many years, she served as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Kent Intermediate School District. Her innovative work in that arena earned her local, state, and national recognition as she became a fierce supporter for literacy initiatives, Title IX, and equal and open opportunity for all students. Marie was also president of the Board of the Michigan Association of School Curriculum Development (MASCD).

Marie’s unwavering advocacy for women was paramount in her life. She served on the Board of the Women’s Resource Center and the YWCA in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She co-chaired the first Tribute Award, an annual event honoring women of distinction in the greater Kent County, Michigan, community. Her work for the Junior League centered on equal rights and women’s recognition. Perhaps Marie’s biggest contribution to the field of education was her mentorship of other women in leadership roles that had been dominated by men. In today’s lingo, Marie would be considered the ultimate “girlboss.” Not a glass ceiling was left intact.

Marie spent her retirement with Dick following sunsets from her home on Echo Lake in Grand Rapids to the condo balcony in Marco Island on the Gulf of Mexico to the family cottage deck overlooking Lake Huron in Bayfield, Ontario. She was a devoted grandmother to Kennedy, Payton, Bennett, & Lilly and always made holidays and vacations in Marco Island and Bayfield especially festive. She was so proud of each of their achievements and shared them with friends. During retirement, Marie continued to advocate for women’s issues and served as Co- President of the Marco Island, Florida Chapter of the American Association of University Women. She was a staunch Democrat and remained educated on politics throughout her life.

Family will hold a celebration of life on Tuesday, November 28 at O’Brien-Eggebeen-Gerst Chapel, 3980 Cascade Rd. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. The service will begin at 1:00 p.m. with visitors welcome to greet family at 12:00 p.m. Services will be livestreamed on https://www.facebook.com/gerstgrandrapids and will begin when services start. Following the service, Marie’s family invites everyone to her and Dick’s home at 239 Greenbrier S.E. to celebrate her life with light food and beverages.

Marie spent her life advocating for women and education and women in education. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her memory to a charity or organization that you find meaningful or that you believe she would find significant.

 

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7 Responses

  1. Mrs. Neil’s house was my second home. She was a force of nature. She helped me find many jobs and she believed in me in a significant way. She often spoke of her time in New York City and spoke of her high-powered job. To me, she was one of the first girl bosses I ever knew.

    She frequently hosted me in her home in Bayfield with Lake Huron in the distance and filled my belly full of steak and potatoes. We saw her in New York City and in Grand Rapids and Bayfield. I loved her dearly and will miss her.

    One vivid memory of her was when I got a part in the school play and Emily and I had “borrowed” one of her dresses for my costume. Of course, she didn’t know until she attended the play. Afterwards she came up to me and said, “Lauren, I just love your dress”. Always gracious and generous, that was her.

    It is safe to say that she has already found her Marco Island and Bayfield crew in the Pearly Gates and of course is reunited with her husband Mr. Neil up in heaven. Go Blue Marie, thank you for everything.

    Love, Lauren Teggelaar

  2. Our condolences to Marie’s kids and grandkids.
    We worked with Marie at Kent ISD. We were privileged to call Marie and Dick friends.
    We enjoyed their hospitality and company on many occasions (in Michigan and Florida).
    We have many great memories that we will always cherish.
    Marie was a true educational professional , a respected leader that developed and
    mentored thousands.
    Marie was so proud of her kids and grandkids and talked of them often.
    Marie left the world a much better place and will be missed.
    May she rest in peace.
    Jerry and Mary Hunsburger

  3. My parents, Bud and Bea Kieft were in a gourmet group with Dick and Marie. It was always a fun gathering for that group, with very impressive meals planned. I have very fond memories of both Dick and Marie.
    Please accept our sincere condolences.
    Tom and Barbara Cole

  4. Marie was my mentor and dear friend. She encouraged me to finish my education as an adult non traditional student. I treasure our conversations and will always appreciate her support of women. Her kindness crossed cultural and political boundaries. Grateful to have known Marie and for her amazing family.

  5. I met Dick and Marie 15 years ago when my husband and I started coming to the Prince in Marco Island to see our folks.. Dick and Marie were always the smiling people you wanted to be near. Their fun energy was magnetic ! They loved Michigan and constantly wore the fan garb- I rooted for MI because of then! Marie was one of my Mother in-laws best friends and took care of her when she needed help. When my Mother in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she pushed her to go to the pool with for regular exercise and had countless dinners with her and my father in law. Marie was very giving and when my mother in law was struggling with walking, she got her a special retractable cane. When my kids were younger, she gave them her kids old toys- we still have Wendell the cabbage patch boy ! Marie was a strong and assertive woman. She confirmed that her life was about love being a verb- – she did so much for everyone! She will be so missed!❤️🙏🏻

  6. Jennifer A Mills Klatt- OMG Wendell Barry! My dad won him in a work raffle (that we think was rigged) and I received him for Christmas the year that they couldn’t be found on the shelves. I’m so glad that little guy got some more love from your children. Marie loved your in-laws so much!

  7. I was shocked to hear of Marie’s death, by way of the Michigan Alum magazine. I am an old friend dating back to high school. I have so many memories of Marie and Dick. So many fun times together over the years, Bayfield, GP, Michigan football etc. I am so sorry for the late condolence. I last spoke with her in October and had no idea it was so serious. I WILL MISS MY FRIEND MORE THAN I CAN EXPRESS HERE.

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