Neva D. Oneal Thornhill died on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, with her family nearby.
Neva D. Oneal was born in Bogard, Mo., to Elmer and Emma (Bunney) Oneal. Paternal grandparents were Philander and Emma Oneal. Maternal grandparents were Winfield and Leora (Lyons) Bunney. Neva was the last of three children; Nellie Oneal Well was the eldest, followed by Nelson B. Oneal. The Elmer Oneals moved from Bogard while Neva D was a toddler. They purchased a family farm in Carrollton, Mo., which is still in existence today.
Neva D. (this how she was addressed by family and friends) grew up on the farm with her siblings. Neva D. attended Van Horn Methodist Church with her parents, and she was a member of the 4-H club. During her elementary school years she attended classes in two one-room schoolhouses (the Baker school and the Whipperwill school) for grades one through eight. After completing the eighth grade, Neva D. went on to Carrollton High School. After graduation she was accepted at Research Hospital School of Nursing in Kansas City, Mo. Following nursing school, Neva attended Baylor University in Texas, the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, and Mercy College in New York, where she received a bachelor of science degree.
Neva D. began her nursing career working at Research Hospital in Kansas City and Leavenworth Veterans Administration Hospital in Leavenworth, Kan. In 1955 she entered the United States Air Force Nursing Corps, where she was commissioned as a first lieutenant. She was enrolled in the Air Force Flight Nursing School, and graduated as a flight nurse. Her duty stations included Maxwell AFB Alabama, Waco AFB Texas, Gunther AFB Alabama, Ladd AFB Alaska, and Richards Gabour AFB Missouri. Neva enjoyed the time she spent in the Air Force, and her duty as a flight nurse, transporting injured and sick military personnel from various outposts to a major hospital. She always had a desire to fly, and even considered becoming a flight attendant prior to joining the Air Force. Neva enjoyed her service as flight nurse so much that she decided to make it her career. While stationed at Ladd AFB in Alaska, she met Melvin, her future husband, who changed her mind. After four years in the Air Force, Neva D. worked at the Manhattan and the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospitals. She retired from the Bronx V.A. hospital, having completed 33 years in the Veterans Administration Hospital system.
On June 4, 1960, Neva D. Oneal was joined in marriage to Melvin Douglas Thornhill. They had two children, Denice Marcell Thornhill and Melvyn Douglas Thornhill II. During their 56 years of marriage, she lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Vineyard Haven. While the children were growing up, and after retirement, Neva traveled with her family to places in the West and Midwest, the East Coast, the Caribbean, and back to Alaska. In rare moments when she could relax, she would make her own clothes, make bedspreads and quilts for Melvin and the children, and embroider pillowcases and handkerchiefs for gifts. Neva was a loving wife, mother, and friend.
Neva’s religious life began in the Van Horn Methodist Church in Bogard, where she attended church until moving from the area. She attended services at a local chapel in Kansas City, Kan., where she decided to be baptized by immersion. She attended military chapels while serving in the Air Force. After her marriage, she joined the Baptist Church, and was active on committees at the Trinity Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and also at the First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon, where she served as a deaconess and a member of the board of christian education. In 1988 she was honored as the Churchwoman of the Year. After Melvin’s retirement, they became full-time residents of Martha’s Vineyard, and she and Melvin became members of the First Baptist Church of Vineyard Haven, where Neva served on the missions committee.
During the 56 years and 5 months of their marriage, Neva D. and Melvin were inseparable — you very rarely saw one without the other. Neva and her dry sense of humor will be missed by many. She leaves her husband, Melvin, daughter Denice, son Melvyn (M.D.), daughter-in-law Phyllis, and a host of relatives and friends.
Neva D. donated her body to Tufts University School of Medical Sciences in Boston. A celebration of life service will take place in April at the First Baptist Church, 407 New Rochelle Road, Bronxville, N.Y., with a repast to follow. When her body returns to the Island, there will be a local service and burial with military honors.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Neva’s name to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 1748; First Baptist Church of Vineyard Haven, P.O. Box 806; or American Legion Post 257, P.O. Box 257, all in Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; or the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, P.O. Box 1477, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557; the Gay Head Community Baptist Church, P.O. Box 806, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; or the VNA of Cape Cod and the Islands, 255 Independence Drive, Hyannis, MA 02601.
Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.