Wildlife Officer Leaves a Legacy of Conservation, Camaraderie
Aug. 30, 2021
Editor, Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
HOPE – Sr. Cpl. Jeff Wayne Neel, 55, of Hope died Aug. 4 in Plano, Texas, after a lengthy illness linked to COVID-19.
Neel, a 21-year veteran of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, was a wildlife officer in Hempstead County, based in the Hope Regional Office his entire career with the AGFC.
“Jeff was a true member of his community and he will be sorely missed,” Col. Brad Young, chief of the AGFC’s Enforcement Division, said. “Let us remember him for his love of family, passion for the great outdoors and the contributions he made to his community. His passing has and will greatly affect us all. Jeff will be missed more than words can express.”
Cpl. Dennis Hovarter and Neel worked as longtime partners.
“He was a great guy and my best friend for 17 years and he will be missed,” Hovarter said. “He was a game warden, not a wildlife officer. He loved to catch poachers – he loved to run the deer decoy more than anything. And he was good at it. He loved everyone working together as a group; he said we could catch more poachers that way.
“He loved to be out before daylight and stay out after dark – he just didn’t do eight (hours) and go home.”
Hovarter says working with Neel was rewarding and enjoyable.
“He was either cutting up and teasing everyone or he was all business – not much in between,” Hovarter recalled. “If he was picking on you, he liked you. He had a rubber snake that he kept in his truck. His goal was to get someone with it every day. I couldn’t tell you how many times he has gotten me. He loved to get together and cook on the river bank or out in the woods.
“You knew where you stood with him because he told you; he didn’t hold anything back. He loved his family and his friends.”
Hovarter was part of a “Scales of Justice” column that Neel wrote for the AGFC’s magazine, Arkansas Wildlife, in 2015 about a case in which two poachers shot a cow and claimed they thought it was a feral pig.
Neel was an instructor at the AGFC’s H.C. “Red” Morris Enforcement Training Center at Mayflower. He taught advanced driving techniques to wildlife officer cadets and other students.
Neel received the Governor’s Lifesaving Award in 2014, as well as a special commendation in 2018 for his actions rescuing stranded boaters on Millwood Lake in Little River County during life-threatening conditions.
He was a sergeant in the Hope Police Department before he joined the AGFC, as well as an Army veteran. He was secretary of Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in Hope.
Officers from Hope, Texarkana, Hempstead County, Arkansas State Police and the AGFC honored Neel by escorting his body from Texas to Hope.
Neel, born Feb. 19, 1966, in Pensacola, Florida, was the son of James and Willie Mae Mallory Neel; his parents preceded him in death.
Survivors include his wife, Michelle Neel of Hope; two sons, Daniel Neel (Jaecey) of Hope and Tyler Hicks (K.D.) of Prescott; four daughters, Sara Morrow (Paul) of Nashville, Arkansas; Allie Neel of Nashville, Arkansas; Brandie Arnold (Chad) of Mena; and Jessica DiMarco of San Diego, California; one brother, Bud Neel (Patty) of Melbourne, Florida; two sisters, Pam Garringer (Scott) of Washington, Arkansas and Mary Salazar of Conway. He also had seven grandchildren: Rynley, Shepherd, Jaxon, Westin, Emersyn, Ella and Aubrie.
Neel is interred at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Hope. Memorial contributions may be made to the Arkansas Wildlife Officer Association Scholarship Fund.
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