Benjamin "Neal" Maier
After an eight-year battle with dementia, Neal Maier, 78, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
Neal was born on a Military Base in San Francisco on October 7, 1943, to Montana born parents Ben and Elsie Nelson Maier. He was the first of three children. His stay in California was short and he and his mother returned to the Missoula area where he lived the rest of his life.
He was raised in East Missoula, attended Central Grade School, and graduated from Missoula County High School. He married Rita Johnson in 1963 and together they had three children: Skip Maier, Troy Maier and Michele Heide]. They later divorced. He married Carol McKinney Cameron on December 2, 1978 and gained two more children: Ginger Sewell and Glen Cameron.
After a few odd jobs at service stations and lumber mills, Neal went to work for the Forest Service, a career that lasted 37 years. For most of that time, he worked at the Missoula Technology Development Center (MTDC), one of two centers under the direction of the Washington Office. These Centers developed and designed various types of equipment for use in fire, timber, and many other areas. As the lead Mechanical Engineering Technician in the shops, Neal and his crew were responsible for building the prototype equipment designed by the engineers. This was a job that definitely fit his personality and skills. He really liked working with the engineers and traveling to all parts of the United States to demonstrate, test and/or repair the equipment they built. One of his most memorable trips was to Alaska to repair a huge piece of equipment that was broke down in a field that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. He talked about that trip for a long time.
Like a lot of young men in Missoula, Neal got involved in racing cars. He won his share of trophies, but the fun part was listening to the stores his friends told for years. The issue was not so much who won or who lost but who cheated. Neal stayed involved in racing for quite a while, working with his longtime friend Denny Hill, who was the mechanic for stock car racer Sammy Thompson. Fun fact — Neal painted Sammy's race car. It had stripes and was light purple and teal in color, Sammy's signature colors.
Neal loved life and his family. He and Carol always considered themselves lucky to own a cabin on Lake Inez. For forty years they enjoyed all the amenities a cabin has to offer. Neal was into many activities including motorcycles, dirt bikes, 4-wheelers, jet skis, waterskiing, wood cutting, hunting, and of course snowmobiling. It was uncanny how good he was at all those activities. Carol and the kids were included in all of it. They too excelled at many of these activities; mostly due to a great teacher and the sheer amount of time they spent doing all of it.
Hunting was something Neal looked forward to every fall. He and his friend Bob Burgad would start driving around the week before opening day just to see what was out there. They would hunt every day the first week of the season and then every weekend thereafter. It wasn't hard to figure out that shooting an animal was not their main objective. They just liked being in the woods, hiking up the mountains and driving on all the back roads. Their stories of driving in more than two feet of snow, sliding off the roads and losing a wheel off the Scout were hilarious. It didn't matter how many hunting stories they told or how often they talked about them, they kept us laughing all winter.
Another activity he enjoyed was playing Pinochle with their friends at the lake. He really looked forward to the competition, camaraderie, laughter and kahlua drinks that they shared every weekend. In their group it was always the men against the women. The men thought they won all the time, but the women knew better. For someone that had never played cards before, Neal was a really good pinochle player.
And then there was snowmobiling, Neal's absolute favorite activity. His riding days started in the mid 1960's on an old Wheel Horse. He talked about that sled many times, laughing at how he started out. Thanks to Neal, snowmobiling also became Carol's favorite activity. Those early days were memorable. It was so much fun to watch the competition between Neal and Tom Peterson. The machines in those days had short tracks with little or no suspension and you had to stand on the back bumper just to get them up the hill. Those were also the days when you worked on your sleds all week just to ride on the weekend. We watched as Neal and Tom started making major changes to their machines: extending the tunnels, adding longer tracks and better suspensions, and of course horsepower. Pretty soon we all had those modifications and went from standing on the back bumpers to riding as far forward as possible to climb higher and more difficult mountains. Of course, newer and better machines became available and we went through our share of them. We rode with so many different people over the years and enjoyed every minute of it. The McCall group was especially fun. It's hard to beat staying in a condo for a week and riding for five days in some of the best country around.
After his retirement, Neal launched into a new career as a used car salesman. Another venture that was a perfect fit for his personality. He loved going to the weekly Dealer Auto Auction in Spokane with his friend and fellow car salesman, Scott Powers. They did this for years and rarely missed a sale. Neal liked the atmosphere and the people. He mingled with other car dealers and knew the names of the auctioneers. He would walk the lines out front and engage in conversation with all the drivers. It wasn't long before he knew their names and little tidbits about their lives and families. The car business was good for Neal. He really enjoyed having a small car lot and prided himself on finding the right vehicle for his customers.
There is no question that Neal was a people person. He would talk to anyone and everyone. He was always interested in their stories - never judging and always encouraging. His ability to remember people, their names, families, and what they did was enviable. He made so many friends over the years and valued every relationship. He will be missed by all who knew him
Neal was preceded in death by his parents Ben and Elsie Maier.
He is survived by his wife Carol; his children Skip (Jess) Maier, Troy Maier, Michele (David) Heidel, Ginger Sewell and Glen Cameron. He is also survived by his two sisters, Sharon (Bill Farrell) Pearcy and Sandi (Marv) Wilson; his grandchildren Marisa, Dylan, Chance and Rylee; and four great-grandchildren along with numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Dementia is such a terrible disease, and it is very difficult for families to watch their loved ones go through it. Neal remained at home the entire time with Carol as his caregiver. She did this by choice feeling she knew what was important to him and how he would react to the constant changes that were happening to his mind and body. Although he did not know or recognize many people this last year, he knew his wife right up to the end. Carol would like to thank everyone who reached out to her. She especially thanks Ginger, Glen, Skip and her good friends Sharon Burgad and Bill and Lorraine Reiner for all their help and support. She could not have done this without them.
A celebration of Neal's life is planned for later in the spring or summer of 2022.