John Joseph O’Neill Jr. was a 68-year-old man living in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. Many people saw him shouting and gesturing at passing cars around town, and for many years this was how people knew him.
But on Nov. 26, O’Neill was struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee on 21st Street in Lewiston. He was crossing the street when the Jeep hit him.
Once police arrived, they found O’Neill lying in the northbound lanes with a black Jeep Grand Cherokee parked at the scene. The Lewiston Fire Department arrived to attend to him, but pronounced him dead at the scene.
Many people around the valley knew O’Neill well, and his death seemed to hit the community’s teens especially hard. One student, Sarenity Haning, mentioned how much she liked O’Neill. Other students said they had enjoyed listening to his stories. So from Dec. 1-3, members of the community got together for a candlelight ceremony for O’Neill, held each night at Locomotive Park in Lewiston.
“It was basically a celebration of life,” Haning said. “We gathered around, lit our candles, and showed John the respect that he deserved.”
Some motorists in the valley said they even considered O’Neill as a family figure.
Lee Hendren, another LHS student, mentioned how much he enjoyed the memorial event.
“I just loved how respectful everyone was at the memorial, no one was mean to each other, and everyone kept it respectful for John’s sake,” Hendren said.
A couple of other kids had also mentioned how much they enjoyed others’ company at the event, also stating how respectful everyone was.
Along with the unofficial memorial that the people of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley held for O’Neill, his family is set to hold a mass for him Saturday, Jan. 16, at All Souls Catholic Church in Overland, Missouri. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, people make donations to Missouri Mental Health Foundation, 221 Metro Dr. Suite C, Jefferson City, MO, 65109.
O’Neill’s sisters shared what he was like while growing up. His sister Margret O’Neill mentioned several examples of him taking things apart and putting them back together, such as their TV, their mom’s radio, and electric trains.
She also remembered that his older pals gave him the nickname “Buckwheat,” and that he was very kind and easy-going,
“He would give you the shirt off his back, and could always make you laugh,” she said.
His sister Teresa O’Neill mentioned how easy he was to be around.
“It seemed like he knew everyone. [. . .] John seemed to be a celebrity to me,” she shared.
She added that he had a love for everyone, and it seemed that if anyone hurt him, no matter how deeply, he still found room in his heart to forgive them.