Photojournalist, Scholar Ron MacNeil Says Goodbye


BHS teacher Ron MacNeil, back left, captures Ronald Reagan’s arrival at the Sheraton Hotel in Burlington on Feb. 14, 1980. MacNeil worked as a photojournalist before going into education. | Photo: Courtesy Rob Swanson

Feet up, leaned back. 90% of the time, this is the position where one finds Ron MacNeil.

MacNeil, who has been with the district for 16 years, will retire from the history department at the end of the year.

When you walk into C104, it becomes immediately clear that you are in MacNeil’s room. Student drawn portraits of him are held up by scotch tape, chess boards and loose papers lay around on tables, classical paintings line the walls. Hidden in all this is a black and white print of Ronald Reagan in a sea of reporters circa 1982. One of the reporters is a young Ron MacNeil.

“It was kind of an interesting life,” he said. MacNeil was a photographer for United Press International, which, at the time, was one of the biggest news organizations in the world. “I sometimes worked 16-18 hour days, and I loved every minute of it.”

After a while, however, he decided that it wasn’t the career for him.

“I missed academia,” MacNeil said. So he went back to school.

But when “things went funny” with his first marriage and he ended up with his three sons, he needed a job that was on their schedules. That’s when he decided on teaching.

“I’ve always been a reader and a scholar,” MacNeil said. “So I said ‘Eh this will work. And I don’t regret a minute of it, frankly.”

MacNeil began his career at BHS 19 years ago as a paraeducator. At night, he attended college to finish his undergraduate degree in education.   

During MacNeil’s time student teaching, he met Tom Obbagy, a teacher in the history department. They bonded over attending the same college, Saint Michael’s, and both originate from ‘the great state’ of New Jersey.

“My high school is better than his high school,” Obbagy quips.

Obbagy said MacNeil takes a different approach to time in the classroom.

“He’s very open for student view, student opinion, and testing the waters for enlarging your opinion,” he said. “There’s a good working relationship where he models something, and kids are pretty open to that.”  

Luke Steele is a junior, and has been a participant in Model United Nations, a program which MacNeil has advised during his time at BHS.

“His room was always pretty inviting. Anyone could walk in and sit down and learn,” he said.

MacNeil says that one of the best things about the job is helping troubled students find their way by senior year.

“That happens more often than you think,” MacNeil said. “And that’s a great feeling, that you contributed to that and helped them along. It’s helping them that’s really the most satisfying thing.”

When not working with students, MacNeil is usually reclining and reading a book.

“I’ve got a book in my car, a book at school, a book downstairs in my house, and a book next to my bed,” he said.

In addition to books, MacNeil is seemingly obsessed with degrees. He has earned a Masters in Art History and Masters in Education, and is currently finishing up a Masters in History. Students and colleagues alike wonder: why so many degrees?

“Because I’m an addict,” he said.

Ron MacNeil is a recovering alcohol and drug addict. He has been sober for 18 years. Now, MacNeil satisfies his addictive personality with academia.

“I’m addicted to reading and studying and that’s a lot better than drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Students say that they feel his enthusiasm for learning is passed down to them.

“I actually look forward to his class,” Senior Maddie Khamnei said. “He is excited by learning, and he wants to share that with people.”

Some day in late June, Ron MacNeil will pack up his books and chess boards, step out the door of C104 and leave behind an extraordinary legacy.