You may have seen Grace McNeil taking a break from serving tables on the deck of Boone Docks to dance to The New Third Coast with a smiling child. Or maybe you saw her taking a dip in Lake Michigan between shifts, biodegradable soap in hand and a smile on her face. Maybe you caught a glimpse of her driving in her car, an unmistakable Buick Dynasty, which often doubled as her closet during the busy days of summer. Or perhaps you saw her enjoying the fresh powder on the slopes at The Homestead resort or helping children learn the sport she loved. Wherever you saw Grace, chances are you saw her enjoying every minute of her too-short life.
Grace had a passion and a zest for life that was unmatched and uncommon. What made her the happiest was when she could share that spark with others, whether by dancing the night away with friends or just taking in the sunset on Pierce Stocking Drive. She was a cheerleader, not only in the literal sense, but in the way that she steadfastly encouraged and supported those whom she loved. She was also driven in both academics and athletics; many remember seeing her zipping around a soccer field or snapping pictures as photography editor of her high school yearbook. She did not have the insecurities that many have in social situations, and she could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. She often did this as a child on the beaches of Good Harbor, telling fellow beach-goers, “I’m Gracie McNeil, and I have pretty blue eyes.”
Although her life kept her busy and somewhat frenzied, she always found time to spend with those she loved, whether it was grabbing a quick beer at Art’s after work or putting her creative energy into a card or gift to let someone know she cared. She was also very spontaneous, and would take a road trip to a music festival or travel to visit friends with just a few days or hours’ notice. She loved adventure; she traveled to Spain to study abroad and practice Spanish, and then moved to Colorado after her college graduation to enjoy mountain life.
She was prone to life’s glitches, and it was common to hear that she had lost items that were important to her. However, she never let those little misfortunes break her spirit, and assured everyone around her that life was too short to spend too much time worrying about a missing camera or a car in the ditch.
What was also admirable about Gracie was that she was never afraid to tell someone what was on her mind; her candid remarks kept everyone in check. In her own words, Grace described herself by saying, “I am eclectic, electric. It’s in my own clock that I tick.”
She always spoke about her dreams for the future, but unlike many who make plans for themselves, Grace made sure that she followed through with those plans. After enjoying her time in Colorado, Grace planned to travel to a Spanish-speaking country to teach English. She often spoke about how she wished she had pursued an education degree in college and how she planned to do so at some point in her life. I have no doubt that she would have taken this route had she been given more time here on Earth. However, she could not have been a better teacher during the time she was with us. She taught us all that life truly is a gift for which we should thank God, and to enjoy every minute we have been given. She inspired and pushed us all to make our dreams a reality and to never let an opportunity pass us by. She led by example, and I can’t think of a better way to define a teacher, or a better way to define my friend, my sister, Grace Lynn McNeil.
Grace McNeil died in a ski accident in early January in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her home community mourns her loss, and will remember her.