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John O'Neill
John O'Neill is credited with playing "a major role in the transformation of Speech and Hearing Science" at Illinois

Service to the profession marks John J. O’Neill’s legacy in Speech and Hearing Science


The Department of Speech and Hearing Science’s history of cultivating a spirit of leadership through mentoring and service to the profession owes much to John J. O’Neill.

O'Neill interviewed to chair the Division of Speech and Hearing Science in the Department of Speech at the 1958 American Speech and Hearing Association convention in New York. Already known for his expertise in clinical psychology and rehabilitative audiology, O’Neill left Ohio State University for Illinois in 1959, where, as the new division chair, he instilled the expectation that faculty and students would match his dedication to service. Upon his hiring, O’Neill was charged with further integrating the speech and audiology areas, developing the graduate program, obtaining grants and centralizing the department under one roof. He tackled all this as he widened the department’s contributions to speech and hearing programs across Illinois and beyond. Department faculty, graduate students and undergraduates contributed to training, clinical work and the efforts of professional associations at the local, state and national levels.

In his obituary, published by the News-Gazette on July 5, 2009, O’Neill was described as having “played a major role in the transformation of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois to its current status as the nationally ranked Department of Speech and Hearing Science and served as the first head of the department from 1973 to 1979.” O’Neill published more than 80 journal articles and technical reports and was the author or co-author of four textbooks. Although he retired in 1991, O’Neill remained active in SHS, serving for years as the department’s format checker for theses and dissertations.

In a 2010 tribute at the Annual John J. O’Neill Lecture, Tanya Gallagher, a former dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences and an alumna of SHS, called O'Neill a “highly respected researcher whose landmark work advanced the field of aural rehabilitation, a skilled administrator who built one of the leading speech and hearing science programs in the nation and helped our national association take its place as one of the major scientific and professional organizations.”

Gallagher—who received her master's degree and Ph.D. from SHS, said, “Dr. O’Neill had attracted some of the brightest thinkers of our field to this program, and the intellectual vitality within the small white house that housed the program then [the old Lorado Taft house] was palpable and energizing. It was the place to be, where it was happening, and we knew it even then.” 

Another SHS alumna, Judith LeDuc, had a similar feeling about O’Neill. 

“I first met John O’Neill when I came to interview him about the Speech Science Program at Illinois. I walked into his office, and there he was, with his feet resting on his desk. I thought, ‘My kind of guy!’"

LeDuc, who got her master’s degree in 1971, went on to work as a speech-language pathologist at the University of Illinois Medical Center and developed both outpatient and inpatient hospital-based pediatric programs, as well as a private practice. 

“I was interested in child language, and he assured me that the faculty at Illinois brought a wealth of knowledge and research to the program,” said LeDuc, who has also been an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, Rush Medical Center  and DePaul University. “He was passionate about the field, dedicated to serving, and somehow was always able to hold the department together, as faculty and students paraded through.”

John Deck, who got his master’s and Ph.D. from Illinois, credited O’Neill for his guidance and direction and said O’Neill encouraged him to take a job as a speech pathologist at the Danville VA Medical Center in Illinois. Through the years at Danville, more than 500 graduate and doctoral students from the division (and later, department) of SHS gained clinical experience. O’Neill was Deck’s Ph.D. advisor, and, as Deck said, “We would discuss important legislation affecting funding for the profession. Conversations Dr. O’Neill and I had about legislation struck close to home … During our discussions, I discovered that no one among the Big Ten schools in speech and hearing did more to help create traineeships for graduate students than John J. O’Neill. So many of us have benefited from his efforts and his legacy.”

O’Neill and Deck, who later worked at Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, worked to secure traineeships with stipends for speech-language-pathology and audiology students. 

O’Neill was also a pioneer in forming the Illinois Speech and Hearing Association in February 1960, and he was a co-founder in 1966 and past president of the Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology, which helped establish the department's national reputation in that area. In 1969, he served as president of ASHA. He was a charter member of the Council on Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, a member of numerous ASHA committees and boards, and ultimately a recipient of ASHA’s Honors of the Association in 1979.

O’Neill’s activity with these associations transferred to his students and colleagues as well. LeDuc, for example, said O’Neill “encouraged us to attend Illinois Speech and Hearing Association meetings, as well as ASHA annual meetings. It was soon after graduate school that I began to serve on ASHA’s legislative council, and ISHA’s program and local arrangements committees. My work on ASHA’s boards and councils continued for more than 40 years. For most of my career, I served the underserved. It was that O’Neill voice in my head.”

The SHS faculty today continue in that spirit. Faculty serve on committees within ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation and the Acoustical Society of America. They are officers in the Eastern Illinois Speech-Language Hearing Association and the Illini Chapter of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, and they serve on Advisory Boards of the Illinois State Board of Education, the American Tinnitus Association and the National Down Syndrome Society, among others. 

“As we celebrate the department’s history and the contributions of its pioneering faculty, we also affirm our commitment to giving back to the community, serving the professions, and honoring the legacy of those who came before us,” said Department Head Pamela Hadley.

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