It was nearly 50 years ago that the Rev. Dr. Taylor Neely and his wife, Catherine, took a small run-down building in Bacolod City, located on Negros Island in the Philippines and started a school and community center. Earlier this month, Mrs. Neely returned for the dedication of a new building at the center in their honor.
Taylor's fascination with the South Pacific started with his service during World War II, during which time he was stationed on the island of Saipan. After his service was completed, he returned to the area as a Baptist missionary, journeying to Bacolod City in 1953.
His first year, the school had 30 students and offered a variety of programs to the community, including music, sports and drama. Now, the small center is bursting at the seams, with more than 1,200 students enrolled in grades ranging from kindergarten to high school. The center now has 50 full-time employees and competes in 10 different sports including swimming, football and gymnastics.
"He didn't think when he started it that it would grow to what it is today," said Catherine. "Taylor planted the seed and now it has excelled and flourished."
Two weeks ago, Catherine, 77, returned to the city for the building's dedication, watching the drape fall to reveal the scrawling signature of her husband.
"I don't know how they got his signature, but that's what was on the building. It was exactly how he signs his name," she said.
She said her most recent journey was a stark contrast to their first excursion.
"The first time we spent 20 days on a ship and we stopped in Hawaii and Tokyo," said Catherine.
Joined by son, Tim, and daughter, Shirley, Catherine also accepted a resolution from the city council expressing its gratitude to the couple for contributions to the community.
While Taylor, 79, was unable to make the journey because of health concerns, he said it was overwhelming to know it was happening at all.
"You look back over your life at all you have done but, besides you, most people forget about these things and go on with their own lives, but then something like this comes up and it reminds you that people do care," said Taylor.
After opening the center, the Neelys returned to the United States in 1957 and Taylor became the pastor at churches in Ohio and then South Dakota before returning to the Philippines as a faculty member at Central Philippine University in Iliolo City in 1967. He later served as the Dean of the University from 1970-71.
For their service to the university, Catherine also accepted service awards for both her and her husband at a ceremony on the campus Oct. 1.
"It was definitely a surprise, I had no idea they were going to do any of it, but I am honored, very honored, that they did," said Taylor.
The Neelys have retired, but the interest in traveling abroad has been passed to the next generation, with two of their four children working abroad. Tim works for the State Department in Taiwan and Shirley is the manager of a women's health clinic in Beijing, China.
n Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.