Visitation, Kewanee, to honor McNeill as ‘Honorary Giant’

When it came to choosing an “Honorary Giant” to recognize during Catholic Schools Week, the girls’ basketball coach at Visitation Catholic School was a slam dunk.

The recipient of this year’s award is Karen McNeill, who has coached the team for 18 years and led the girls to victory at the Diocesan Basketball Tournament in 1992 — a feat that has only been accomplished once. She is cited for doing so much more for Visitation, however.

A member of St. Mary’s Parish, McNeill also serves on the Building and Grounds Committee, has provided leadership for the lector program for 38 years, and serves on the Finance Committee. She was recently appointed a parish trustee.

“But perhaps her most important role in Visitation history is that of supervising the building of our new Visitation School along with Al Padilla,” according to school officials. “Both she and Al were at the site every day.”
Money was tight so every time the architect came back to McNeill and Padilla with a problem, they had to remind him to stay within the budget.
The students returned to school only a couple weeks later than normal in 1985 and used portable toilets and bottled water until the plumbing was finished.

“God was with us,” McNeill said, “because all the trades worked together, the weather cooperated and we were finally in our new school.”

McNeill and her husband, Rich, celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in December and have a son, Greg, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and a daughter, Nicole, who lives in Annawan. They have one grandson.
McNeill will be honored on Friday, Feb. 3, at the 1 p.m. Mass in St. Mary’s Church. The award ceremony will follow in the school’s Goetzman Gymnasium.

“Karen is a great example of stewardship — giving of her time and talent to benefit Visitation Catholic School,” officials said.

The Honorary Giant Award was established in 2005 to pay tribute to someone who has supported Visitation School and its mission of continuing excellence in education. Recipients are also recognized for assisting with the development of Visitation students’ growth as well-rounded individuals, serving as a positive role model for the students and showing exemplary dedication to the school and its tradition.

The first “Honorary Giants” were the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, the religious community that served the school for more than 100 years. Other recipients have been Bernie Labedis (2006), Al Padilla (2007), the former Visitation Grade School and High School coaches (2008), Jerry Salisbury (2009), and Joan and Clarence Clary and Margaret and Francis Rinella (2010).

Last year’s award went to the initial board of directors of the Visitation School Foundation.

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