Peter Neydon '65
Education and drive fueled Peter Neydon’s success; his gratitude now helps UDM students thrive
Peter Neydon ’65, has a sense of ownership and pride in the education taking place in the classrooms and labs, the action on the basketball court and sports fields, and the socializing among students on the University of Detroit Mercy McNichols Campus. It brings back fond memories of the time when he was a student at U of D in the mid-1960s and also elicits a proud family history.
Neydon had a difficult childhood. His father died when he was 11. He was the oldest of five children, and his mother went to work as a teacher. Help arrived in the form of a four-year scholarship from the Knights of Equity, an Irish fraternal organization that his great-grandfather had belonged to. It provided scholarships to children and descendents of members, a fact discovered by his grandmother. Without those funds, Neydon would have had to work full time to save up enough for tuition.
Working hard was a natural for Neydon, who held jobs at an A&P supermarket; J.L. Hudson at Northland; and in the trucking business. His career path was established as a college student when he worked at Central Transport. At first, he kept books on the vehicles that were repaired, and filled potholes in the truck yard so the vehicles didn’t break an axle. He later was in charge of the tire center and dispatched trucks. That experience as a jack-of-all-trades in trucking would serve him well throughout his career.
While at U of D, he met Sheila McCann, who was attending Marygrove College. Both Sheila and Peter graduated in 1965—he with a degree in political science, she with a degree in child psychology. They married soon after, and she taught briefly before the couple had their three children. They have been married for 44 years and their family now includes five grandchildren.
The family legacy at U of D began with Neydon’s grandfather, Charles (Charley) Bruce, who was the captain of the University’s first basketball team in 1906-07 and later become the graduate manager of Athletics, akin to today’s athletic director. (Visit Calihan Hall to see a picture of him with the team.) “My grandfather was U of D through and through. He got his degree there and had a rigorous, classic liberal arts education,” Neydon said. Five of Neydon’s uncles are also U of D graduates, and one of them played varsity basketball with Titan legend Bob Calihan.
Bruce’s coaching career began the start of the golden age of college sports. One of Bruce’s heralded moves was to hire Gus Dorais as the football coach. As a Notre Dame quarterback, Dorais had popularized the forward pass, throwing to the illustrious Knute Rockne, who later became a legendary Notre Dame coach.
After graduating, Neydon worked for Interstate System, another trucking company, for 17 years. During that time, he held a variety of positions and became vice president of national account sales. While living on Detroit’s east side, he would occasionally come back to the McNichols Campus to watch a sporting event or to hear a guest lecturer. His career further advanced when he became V.P. of Sales at USF Holland in 1984, and he moved to Holland, Mich. Later, he was appointed president and CEO of the company, one of the nation’s largest trucking firms. Neydon retired in 2003.
He credits U of D with providing an education that enabled him to communicate well with his co-workers and later with the people that he supervised. “I became interested in a lot of things—politics, history, current events and philosophy—that I wouldn’t have paid much attention to if I hadn’t gone to college.” He also said that the liberal arts education taught at U of D increased his confidence and desire
The Neydons have been major contributors to UDM for decades. He sees it as a way to “pay it forward” so that current UDM students can benefit from a scholarship just as he had.
The couple’s philanthropy also extends to the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland, where they provide an annual college scholarship through the Neydon Scholarship for Children of Widows. “I know what these families go through,” Neydon said simply.