2017-10-19 / Life in Leelanau

Talk of the County

Having a conversation with John O’Neill


JOHN O’NEILL would like to trade places with his wife to learn how to be a better husband. JOHN O’NEILL would like to trade places with his wife to learn how to be a better husband. Name: John O’Neill

Town or township of residence: Downtown Cedar, in Solon Township.

Resident since: Leelanau County since 1979, Cedar since 1988.

Age and birthplace: I was born in Motown and am 65, but I’m sure not feeling like it.

Occupation: Oil painter and writer.

Marital status: Married

You live in Leelanau County because: I was first lured here by my mother to serve as her indentured servant at the Woodcock restaurant, which we renovated into La Bécasse. The deal was that I could work for her three months each year and write novels in the winter, although I ended up working various jobs in addition. My wife and I decided to stay here, though, because we agreed that this would be a wonderful place to raise our daughter, Erin.

Last good movie you saw: “The Road to Fondwa.” It’s about a community in Haiti that brought about a remarkable transformation, centered around the local parish and driven by the Holy Spirit. I rented it from the Traverse City Library.

Last good book you read: “The Diary of a Country Priest” by Georges Bernanos. It offered a very insightful and sensitive portrayal of the main character’s experiences as he faced the challenging secular environment of France.

If you could trade places with one person for one day, it would be: I think it would make the most sense to trade places with my wife so that I can understand how to be a better husband.

Things important to you that you’ve accomplished so far: I was blessed to be the founding director of Habitat for Humanity in Traverse City and have been very fortunate to work in related areas of emergency and affordable housing for about 15 years.

What you hope to be doing in 10 years: Breathing. And also using my talents to continue to do whatever God calls me to.

Things you lose sleep over: I know that anything I do lose sleep over, I shouldn’t. I should just trust.

If you could change one thing in Leelanau County it would be: I would want people to be exposed to others who live very different - and perhaps more challenging - lives than they do, so that they may have more empathy for their neighbors, both here and abroad.

Favorite dessert: Ice cream from Burdickville Market.

Are you a coffee drinker? Yes, in minute amounts. I love Higher Grounds Coffee, but I have more friends if I don’t drink too much of it.

Favorite place in Leelanau County: I find solace walking along the empty beaches or in the woods.

If you had more time you would: I think I have to be careful about wishing for more time. There are a lot of things that I’d like to devote more time to, but I feel as though I don’t take enough time to just stop for a moment, to reflect on all the things which are going on in my life. I think we all need to do that a little more often instead of trying to fit in other things.

The words that best describe you are: Gregarious, well-read, and wild-haired.

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