Eleanor May O’Neill peacefully passed on November 28, 2017. A memorial service celebrating her 93 years of life was held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, December 2, at McGilley & Hoge Chapel in Overland Park, Kansas. Visitation was held at the Brown Funeral Home in Jefferson from 1 to 1:30 p.m. Monday, December 4, followed by burial next to her husband, William and her daughters, Kathleen and Ellen in the Jefferson City Cemetery.
Eleanor was born March 5, 1924 in Jefferson, Iowa, the first child of Milo and Gladys Rydings. She had a carefree childhood and thrived even during the stressful period of the Great Depression. She demonstrated a strong attraction to her studies and appreciation for the arts, particularly music. While in high school, she learned to play the alto sax and gained such proficiency that she travelled to Kansas City and won a National Award for her playing.
After high school, Eleanor decided to pursue her interest in music by attending the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. She was a proper, yet adventurous young woman, which she demonstrated by accepting a blind date with a man described to her as a “star” high school football player, against her better judgement, expecting a brawny, uncultured behemoth. Instead the love of her life, William O’Neill, at 5’6” and 120 lbs. picked her up and, if not immediately sweeping her off her feet, managed to quickly receive a piece of her heart that grew into a lifelong union of their two souls. During this most tumultuous period of total war, Bill was drafted and Eleanor, despite parental reluctance on both sides, accepted his proposal of marriage. They were married in secret with Bill racing the paper boy to seize the morning paper, which included their wedding bands, before it was delivered to his parents, a race the “star” athlete lost.
War and the draft led them to Biloxi, Miss., where they lived a life of romance during a most unstable time. Bill was assigned overseas in the spring of 1945, but not before Eleanor conceived her first child, William II. Billy was born in December, while her husband was still stationed in Guam. In the spring of 1946, Bill returned and their second child, Ellen was born in February, 1947. Kathleen and then Corinne soon followed, so that by the year 1951 Eleanor became fully engaged in raising her young family.
These first ten years of marriage after the war found the family moving many times while Bill pursued his career in transportation. Eleanor found herself making a home for her children in seven separate houses during those years, which included the birth of her fifth child, Kevin, until the family finally found more permanent roots in Independence, Mo. Here Eleanor moved into what she described as her favorite home on 615 N. Delaware St., where all saw and greeted President Truman strolling from the Truman Home to the Truman Library early in the morning. Eleanor celebrated the move with her sixth child, Brien, born in 1958. She settled into the challenge and routine of raising six young children ranging in age from 12 to infant for the next few years until, at the age of 42, she gave life to Sean, her youngest.
Not done with life or challenges, Eleanor decided to put to use the stenographer and typing skills she had learned over 25 years earlier, and went to work for Macy’s as a member of the typing pool. Her skills and intelligence were soon recognized as she quickly became the secretary for the downtown KC Macy’s store manager.
A marriage of over 65 years can have some rocky and turbulent patches. Eleanor and Bill’s union was not exempt from rough seas and, at one point, they were divorced. But Eleanor loved Bill so much, that, with some reform on his part, she accepted his second proposal of marriage and they eloped again, this time unbeknownst to their children, to Oklahoma, where they reaffirmed their marriage vows.
The last 25 years of their lives together were their happiest. They found a gentle joy in their day to day activities, and, most rewardingly, in the lives of their grand and great grandchildren that their children presented them. After her husband’s death, Eleanor lived contentedly the last five years with her daughter, Corinne, and son-in-law, Randy Yeager until a recent hospitalization.
Eleanor was preceded in death by her parents, Milo and Gladys Rydings; her husband, William James O’Neill and her daughters, Ellen O’Neill and Kathleen O’Neill. She is survived by her children: William James II (Carolyn), Corinne (Randy) Yeager, Kevin, Brien (Lisa) and Sean (Teanna); her 14 grandchildren: Susan, Scott, Alicia, Sara, Brent, Ashley, Amy, Timothy, Jennifer, Jessica, Jeffrey, Reilly, Aidan and Alec; and her 16 great grandchildren: Jackson, Benjamin, Evelyn, Jane, Gage, Sam, Grace, Carson, Kinsley, Laney, Stella, Liza, Lucille, Lilli, Charlotte and Caitlin. She is also survived by her sisters, Marie Smith and Beverly Batcheler and her brother, Herbert Rydings.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Kansas City Musical Club, c/o Treasurer Chris Evans Hands, 10206 Edelweiss Circle, Merriam, KS 66203.