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Published: Tuesday, 1/26/2010

Graphic artist headed local Big Brothers

Robert Paul O'Neill, a graphic artist and director of popular Knights of Columbus dinner theaters, died Saturday at his home in Sylvania. He was 79.

His son Gregg said his father had cancer in several organs.

Mr. O'Neill held leadership roles with Big Brothers and the Knights of Columbus and volunteered at Toledo Hospital and with the Little Sisters of the Poor.

"You look back now and you are amazed at the number of hours he spent volunteering," Gregg O'Neill said. "That was his personality. … It's amazing that he still had plenty of time with his family."

Mr. O'Neill was born June 6, 1931. His father, Harvey, was a Toledo motorcycle policeman who was killed in 1937 in a collision during a pursuit. His mother, Ruth Kisseberth O'Neill, remarried to William Paris, a Willys Overland Motors Inc. executive.

Robert O'Neill's brother, Harvey, said a perk was having a Toledo-built Jeep in 1945. The canary-yellow Jeep with its red wheels drew its share of attention at Central Catholic High School, where they attended school.

"We were known as the 'Jeep O'Neills,'•" Harvey O'Neill recalled. "I drove it when I was 16 and when my brother got his license, he drove it and I sat in the backseat with the girls."

The O'Neill brothers attended the University of Notre Dame, where Robert O'Neill studied fine arts. He graduated in 1953, and served two years in the Army as a quartermaster.

He married Nancy Hasenauer, an eighth-grade classmate, on April 19, 1958. Unable to have children, the couple adopted four children, son Gregg said.

For 25 years, Mr. O'Neill worked as an artist for Graphic Arts Corp. until it folded. He then worked at SFC Graphics until he retired. He obtained a real estate license and worked for Century 21 and Coldwell Banker.

He volunteered for Big Brothers, later Big Brothers-Big Sisters, and served as president in 1965, when he was Big Brother of the Year.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced dinner theaters at the Knights of Columbus hall on Secor Road as a fund-raiser for the Catholic fraternal organization.

Mr. O'Neill was a fourth degree Knight, the highest, and served as Grand Knight and Grand Navigator.

Gregg O'Neill said his father is remembered for a charcoal sketch he made of Christ in the 1970s. It was so well received that about 60 copies were sold or given away.

"He made something you'd be proud to hang in a church," he said.

Surviving are his wife, Nancy; sons, Todd and Gregg; daughters, Julie Schifko and Lisa Frank; brother, Harvey and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. today at the Urbanski Funeral Home, where a Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Services will be at 9:45 a.m. tomorrow in Christ the King Catholic Church, where the Mass of Resurrection is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or Central Catholic High School Class of 1949 Scholarship Fund.



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