Neal Christensen died on Sept. 5, 2016, from metastatic prostate cancer. Neal was born on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1933, in New Albany, Indiana, the only child of Henry and Pat Christensen. Neal was an athlete, a soldier, a teacher, a coach, a principal, a counselor, a father, and a husband.
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Most of Neal's childhood was spent in Chicago. At the age of fourteen his parents moved to Jackson, Michigan, where Neal attended St. Mary's High School for his sophomore and junior years. In 1950, his parents moved to the suburb of Elmhurst in the Chicago area where Neal attended Immaculate Conception High School, graduating in 1951. Throughout his high school years, Neal excelled as a football and basketball player, receiving many awards, including selection as an all-conference football player and honorable mention as an Illinois all-state basketball player. In addressing Neal's talent as a football and basketball player, local sportswriters variously referred to him as "nifty Neal Christensen" and "the flashy point maker," with one writer declaring that "Adjectives cannot describe the sensational play of halfback Neal Christensen" in the last football game of Neal's senior year.
Upon graduation from high school, Neal received a football scholarship to Michigan State University where he played for three years. In 1954, he transferred on scholarship to Montana State University and played for the Bobcats for two years. He graduated from MSU in 1956 with a degree in Health and Physical Education. Neal married Peggy Blankenship in 1955. They had three treasured daughters: Lori, Sheri, and Debbie. They later divorced. In 1973, Neal married Marsha Sears and became a loving stepfather to her daughter, Kyna. Neal and Marsha enjoyed 43 years of companionship filled with deep love, affection, and devotion. Theirs was a beautiful love story.
Neal served as an officer in the military for fourteen years, including two years on active duty and twelve years with the Army Reserve and Montana Army National Guard. He started his career as a tank platoon leader and finished as Company Commander of Tank Company of the Montana Army National Guard, 163rd Armored Calvary. He retired with the rank of Captain.
Neal was head basketball coach at Holy Rosary High School in Bozeman from 1958 to 1960, and at Billings Central from 1960 to 1963. In 1963, Neal left coaching to become a counselor. He attended graduate school at Montana State University and received his master's degree in Counseling in 1964. He was school counselor for the Columbus, Park City, and Rapelje guidance co-op from 1964 to 1967. In 1967 he was hired as counselor at the Montana State University-Billings counseling center. In 1976, Neal was hired as the State Supervisor of Guidance and Counseling for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, a position he held until 1981. In that year, he became the counselor at Mountain View School, the detention center for court-adjudicated female minors in Helena. He served as Mountain View's counselor for six years and as its principal for seven years. In 1994, Neal was hired as a school counselor at Helena High School. Neal finished his forty-year career in education there, retiring in 1998.
Neal remained an avid athlete all his life, playing competitive handball for sixty-three years, winning many local tournaments and several Montana doubles state handball championships. He played his last handball game at the age of eighty-one. He was, in his own words, an addicted "gym rat" and a "sports junkie" with an encyclopedic recall of baseball, basketball, and football trivia which he shared with anyone who would listen.
As an atheist, Neal's outlook on life was that it should be lived meaningfully and with purpose. But also not too seriously. Neal laughed easily and had a fetching sense of humor that brought the light of laughter to others. Most of all, Neal lived in the moment, knowing that is all we really have.
In his last days Neal remained grateful for the love and support of those closest to him: his wife, Marsha, and his children, Lori, Sheri, Debbie, and Kyna. He was also grateful for the dedicated medical care he received from Doctors Ken May, Steffen May, and Joan Spannering. He was especially grateful for the care he received from Doctor Kathryn Borgenicht and the entire Hospice of Bozeman Health staff who worked so tirelessly and compassionately to ease his suffering in the last month of his life.
Neal is survived by his wife of 43 years, Marsha; his three daughters, Lori Christensen, Sheri Rogers, and Debbie Johnson-West (Charlie West); his stepdaughter, Kyna Bighorn (Channon); six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He is also survived by his brothers-in-law, Ron (Bobi) Mellor, John (Ellen) Mellor, and Tom (Maryann) Mellor. He was preceded in death by his son-in-law, Bill Rogers. Donations in Neal's memory may be made to Bozeman Health Foundation (memo line: Hospice), 931 Highland Blvd., Ste. 3200, Bozeman, MT 59715.
A gathering for family and friends in Neal's memory will be held at a later date.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. www.dokkennelson.com
Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service
113 South Willson Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59715
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Sept. 8, 2016