Biography: Betty Jane Neal, 86, departed this life on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. She was the daughter of the late Alexander (Daisy Montgomery) Neal Sr. and the late Earline McFadden Howard. Betty was the oldest child, born August 27, 1931; and was sister to the late Alexander Neal, Jr., Harry Neal and the late Bobby Howard.
As a young adult, after completing one year at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina and graduating from Tuomey Hospital’s Nursing Program in Sumter, South Carolina. Betty journeyed to New York City where she found the place she would ultimately call home; and she lived there for the next sixty-four years, until she moved to Des Moines, Iowa in March 2017 to be with her daughter and family due to health challenges.
Betty seemed to have always lived life centered around others—initially concerning her only child, Robin Denise, her parents, brothers, nieces, nephews and younger brother, who moved to New York City where the family unit would eventually flourish. With the growth of the household, income had to increase, and therefore she did many long hours, nights and days, nursing at multiple institutions at the same time to provide until her father (originally a farmer) could find work in the city. Not many years out, her daddy would long for the agricultural south and moved the family (Daisy, Harry and Robin) back to South Carolina. Betty stayed in New York City, and it wasn't long before she would have saved enough to build a family home in the south. Every year she would send for her daughter, nieces, nephews and/or cousins, providing vacations and/or a start in life. Not one or two, but several of her first cousins will recall getting their start at cousin Betty’s.
Besides caring for her family, she cared for her community. An activist at heart, she always had a desire to serve those that simply didn't have—didn’t have food, didn't have clothes or shelter, didn't have a voice. She would become the founder and CEO of Ministers of Harlem USA, Inc., whereby she ministered to any that were in need, making numerous court visits to advocate on behalf of the accused; and became affectionately known as “Reverend Betty”. She secured a building from the city and used it to channel various essentials to those in the community. In response to what she describes as directions from God, she started working with the NYPD and FDNY where she honored many that donned the uniforms, risking all in service to her beloved community. She would become Chaplain liaison to the 28th precinct and community fire house. Betty made it her business to become politically astute, such that she could connect community to power.
Betty was baptized at St. Mark 4-B Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina while a teenager; developed her relationship with Christ such that He is Lord; and was later called into the ministry of preaching, with ordination in 1975. Although she pastored for a period of time, Reverend Betty found her calling to be outside of the four walls where her greatest ministry was on the streets of Harlem engaging drug dealers, prostitutes and such. She tagged herself a “Street Preacher”.
Ms. Neal was a multi-talented entrepreneur, and New York City was the place she could exercise her gifts as a masseuse, electrologist and radio personality, as well as operating a trophy business in addition to her non-profit. For Betty, New York was home, and had served her well over the years. She had two favorite sayings about New York City— “New York is so great they named it twice—New York, New York” and “If you can’t make it in New York, you can’t make it anywhere.” She made it!
Certainly the Golden Rule was core to who she was, but there were two poems that encapsulated all that she believed and stood for— “The Serenity Prayer” and “I shall pass this way but once”—both hung visibly on the walls of her businesses and home.
Left cherishing her memory and honoring her life are her daughter and son-in-love, Robin Denise and Anthony Cornelius Jenkins of Des Moines, Iowa who cared for her in their home until she passed; an adopted son (a disabled Veteran she cared for), William Darby of New York, New York; three grandchildren, Chanton E. Smith, Sr. of Des Moines, Iowa, Erica R. Smith of Waukee, Iowa, Troy (Seleana) Jenkins of Columbia, South Carolina; seven great-grands, Faith Wortherly of Waukee, Iowa, Chanton Smith Jr. of New York, New York, Quinton Jenkins and Rontoya Jenkins of Des Moines, Iowa, Asah, Khalid and Soleil Jenkins of Columbia, South Carolina; a brother Harry (Brenda) Neal of Nashville, Tennessee; a sister-in-law, Ruth Neal of Sumter, South Carolina; a goddaughter, Vienna McCorkle (Willie) Jackson on Newark, New Jersey; five nieces, Catherine (Mamon) Pack and Blondina Johnson of Sumter, South Carolina, Diedra Neal-Coit of Mesquite, Texas, Lowonda (Junior) Lathan of Dallas, Texas, Danielle Porter of Nashville, Tennessee; three nephews, Ulysses (Sallie) Neal of Sumter, South Carolina, Alexander Neal, III of Houston, Texas and Antwan Laury of Nashville, Tennessee; and a host of grand/great nieces and nephews, cousins, relatives and friends.