Jon Lionel O’Neal
August 9, 1935 ~ June 9, 2020 (age 84)
Jon Lionel O’Neal, of Post Falls, Idaho, passed away on June 9, 2020.
Jon (Jonny) was born in Hugo, Oklahoma on August 9, 1935, to Lionel and Nola Marie (Elkins) O’Neal. He and his brother and sisters, Alvin, Linda, and Judy, grew up in different towns in Oklahoma until his family settled in Albuquerque, NM, where Jon attended Highland High School. At Highland he lettered in track and football; he held several long-standing state records in track and was on Highland’s All-Star football team (playing alongside future Hall-of-Famer, Tommy McDonald).
He had a soaring Irish tenor voice and was active in music from childhood performing as a boy-soprano soloist to singing in his high school chorus, where the crowning moment of his high-school career occurred when a beautiful young pianist named Beverly walked in and captured his heart.
Jon and Beverly married on April 25, 1952. Jon pursued his vocal career, appearing as a soloist with the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and on a weekly Albuquerque radio program.
After High School he moved with his wife and young daughter, Cindy, to California where he studied under Roberta Nathan and had many successes, even auditioning once for Lucille Ball. His long list of credits includes musicals with the Whittier and L.A. Civic Light Operas; among them “Kismet,” “Fortuneteller,” “Emperor’s Clothes,” “Trial by Jury,” Nutcracker Suite,” “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” and “Carousel.” He sang in Handel’s “Messiah,” Bruckner’s “Te Deum,” Verdi’s “Requiem,” Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and Shore’s “Lord of the Rings Symphony.”
Jon loved to fly. He loved all aircraft and everything to do with flying, apparently from birth (his mom, Marie, joked he was born with a propeller in his mouth). In grade school, he drew airplanes, built model and RC planes, and devoured everything he could find about aerodynamics and aircraft design.
At fifteen he bought a severely damaged Piper 3-seater with money saved from his job at a drug store and ordered a book on how to repair and restore light aircraft. He took that plane apart and rebuilt it in his Dad’s garage, then towed it to the airport, determined he was going to fly it that day. Fly it he did, with an assist from a flight instructor who noticed the kid running up the engines and doing a pre-flight inspection.
Jon served in the Air Force reserves and was a motorcycle officer with the LA County Sherriff’s Department, but his lifelong love of aviation always drew him, and with Beverly’s encouragement and support he decided to pursue a career as an airline pilot. While working as a flight instructor, he worked to accrue the flight hours, ratings, and certifications required by the airlines. After much hard work and perseverance, he was hired and on his way to flight school to begin his career as a pilot for United Airlines. Jon had a very successful 24-year career with United. He retired in 1990 as a 747 Captain flying the Pacific Rim.
After retirement, he always missed flying those big jets and his love of aviation never waned. He designed his own seaplane, flew small planes every chance he got, and built and flew RC models with his son and grandsons. In the last few years, he’s been pen pals with a young man who, like the boy who built an airplane in his Dad’s garage, dreams of being an airline pilot and also shares his deep love for the Lord. One of his dearest recent memories was of a Father’s Day gift from his son, Chris, of taking a tour together in a seaplane over Lake Coeur d’Alene. When the pilot learned of Jon’s flying career, he invited him to take the co-pilot’s seat and let him fly the plane. He had a blast!
Above all, Jon was a man who loved his wife and his family more than anything on this earth and loved his Lord with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength, serving Him all his days. He served in the Church from the time he was a young boy leading song service. He led singing, taught sight-singing and the great hymns of the Church he loved so much, and put together a capella singing groups. Jon was a Bible teacher, counselor, mentor, preacher, deacon, and an elder in congregations around the country. Everywhere he and Beverly served he touched so many lives. Sometimes he would hear from someone he hadn’t seen in years and would be moved to tears of gratitude when they recounted what his friendship and guidance had meant to them in their walk with God.
Jon is survived by his beloved wife of 68 years, Beverly; his children Cindy (Jim) Jones, Lisa O’Neal, Lara O’Neal-Jones, and Chris (Katy) O’Neal; grandchildren Kyle, Heather (Alejandro), Nick (Courtney), Trevor, and Kolbee; great-grandchildren Alexa, Xander, and Emma Grace; his two sisters, Linda Keith and Judy Potter; stepmother Frances O’Neal; and many dear nieces, nephews, and cousins.
What a reunion he’s having with friends and family who went on before, especially his parents Lionel and Marie and brother Alvin, and how he must be loving getting to know his grandchildren who went to heaven before we could meet them, especially little Shaun Michael, whom we loved so much and who left us far too soon.
A memorial service for Jon will be held at a future date, as Beverly’s health allows and as virus-related travel restrictions are lifted so friends and family who wish to may attend. In the meantime, we invite you to post your memories of Jon, stories, pictures, etc. on the Tribute Wall linked above.