John “Jack” O’Neil, a longtime engineering professor who opened his home for nearly three decades to engineering students for a Thanksgiving meal and funded scholarships after retiring, died Feb. 12 after a long illness.
O’Neil, a former aerospace engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company, began teaching at Cal Poly Pomona in 1970. The Boston native taught on campus for 33 years. He met the love of his life, his wife Mary (’71, mathematics; ’73 master’s in mathematics), shortly before coming to the university.
Professor Emeritus Phil Rosenkrantz worked with O’Neil for 20 years in the Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering (IME) and knew him and his wife well. He described the couple as generous.
Rosenkrantz said that one thing many people don’t know about O’Neil is that he was an early proponent of service-learning projects. Because nonprofit and service organizations had more constraints than for-profit companies did in solving problems and improving systems, O’Neil often required students in all of his project classes to work on service-learning efforts.
O’Neil was well thought off by those he taught, Rosenkrantz said.
“Over the years, whenever I talked to alumni, they would often ask how Professor O’Neil was doing,” he said. “He was very well respected by our students for always demanding their best and really knowing his stuff. “
Engineering Professor Kamran Abedini first met O’Neil 33 years ago when Abedini came to work at Cal Poly Pomona. The two bonded over the fact that they were both USC alumni, and O’Neil first became and mentor and then a friend, Abedini added.
“One unique thing about Jack was that he was a morning person,” Abedini said. “He would finish all of his classes by noon. If it was up to him, he would have had office hours at 5 a.m.”
The O’Neils loved to travel. They visited six continents and went on 17 African safaris.
The couple made many gifts to the university’s scholarship funds over the years, first giving to the College of Engineering and, after retirement, through the Pace Setters – an organization of retired Cal Poly Pomona faculty and staff. Jack donated mostly to scholarships for Cal Poly Pomona students. Mary, who taught high school math, established a scholarship in the College of Science targeting math majors with a passion for teaching.
“We wanted to leave a legacy,” Jack said in a CPP Magazine article about their giving, “and from the beginning, Cal Poly Pomona felt like home.
A wake will be held from 5 to 8 p.m., with a rosary at 6 p.m., on Wednesday, March 11 at Stone’s Funeral Home. 355 E. 9th St., Upland, California. The funeral mass is set for 10 a.m. Thursday, March 12 at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 2110 San Antonio Ave., Upland, California. A reception will follow in the church hall. The burial is at Bellevue Cemetery, 1240 W. G St., Ontario, California.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Jack O’Neil Scholarship Fund through Cal Poly Pomona’s IME department or to Bridges to Home Ministry, an organization that serves veterans in need and the homeless by furnishing apartments and homes. Donations to Bridges to Home can be sent to 2110 N. San Antonio Ave., Upland, California.