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William R. O'Neal (1864-1946):

Board Treasurer

Born to Edwin Russel and Nancy Jane Scott O’Neal on June 4, 1864, William R. O’Neal originated in Belpre, Ohio.  After his graduation from the public high schools of Belpre, O’Neal studied law under a private tutor at a local law office.  At eighteen, he entered the insurance business as the representative of the Phoenix Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut.  In August 1886, O’Neal married Mabelle Copeland in Berwick, Maine.  The marriage, which ended in 1910 with Mrs. O’Neal’s death, produced two children: Helen and Mabelle O’Neal.  He married his second wife, Jessie Mallory Thayer in 1914; she died in November 1923.  In 1886, O’Neal moved to Orlando, Florida.  With a partner, O’Neal engaged in the “Curtis and O’Neal” book & stationary and insurance & loans businesses in 1887.  Additionally, he served as the district passenger agent for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, and as a representative of the Phoenix Insurance Company.  O’Neal also had interests in journalism.  In 1890 he had financially invested in, and became part-owner of, the Orange County Reporter.  He also helped organize the Reporter-Star Publishing Company that published the Evening-Reporter-Star, which he presided over, managed, and edited.  O’Neal remained a major contributor to the paper after its purchase by a pair of brothers from Kentucky.  Throughout the 1920s he had a short column in the Sentinel-Star, entitled “Memoirs of a Pioneer,” in which he related Orlando’s early history. Thus, through his business endeavors and contribution to journalism, O’Neal became an active member of the Orlando community.

In Orlando, O’Neal assumed important positions within a variety of organizations.  He functioned as the chairman of the Finance Committee of the American United Life Insurance Company of Indianapolis, Indiana; president of the First Bond and Mortgage Company; president of the First Federal Savings and Loan Association; director the Orlando Building and Loan Association; president and receiver of the First National Bank; chairman of the Board of Directors at the First National Bank; secretary and treasurer of the Seminole Hotel Company; and the president of the Subtropical Midwinter Fair.  O’Neal also had connections to Central Florida’s oldest banking institution: the State Bank and Trust Company.  As a Republican, he joined the National Republican Committee, Board of Governors, and the Orange Country Hospital Association.  Additionally, he served as acting mayor of Orlando, president of the National City Council, chairman of the School Board, chairman of the Utilities Commission, and Postmaster.  O’Neal was a member of the Freemasons, Knights Templar, Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knight of Pythias, and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

O’Neal began to associate with Rollins in 1888.  Elected a trustee in 1890, he served continuously until he died of a heart attack in 1946.  At Rollins, O’Neal functioned as acting president five times, legal advisor, auditor, assistant treasurer, treasurer, secretary of the Board of Trustees, and chairman of the Trustee’s Finance Committee.  As an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando (which he became in 1900), O’Neal received Hamilton Holt’s recognition in 1927 for his services to “church and state”[1] with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rollins College.  The school also awarded him a Decoration of Honor in 1937 and a dinner at the Beanery Cafeteria in 1940.  At the dinner, Holt described O’Neal as “probably the most potent influence in the upbuilding of Rollins than any saint or hero who has ever been connected with the Institution.”[2] 

- Angelica Garcia

[1] Hamilton Holt quoted in, “William Russell O’Neal (1864-1946),” Department of Archives and Special Collections, Box 10B, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Ibid.

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