MANATEE -- Scout. Soldier. Banker.
People who know Jerry Neff are probably more familiar with the latter two parts of his remarkable life as a community leader.
Yet they may not know the 71-year-old is an Eagle Scout, a distinctive achievement and linchpin to his being honored tonight with the third annual Good Scout Award by the Manatee District of the Boy Scouts of America's Southwest Florida Council at 6:30 p.m. at Camp Flying Eagle.
Dan Blalock Jr. and Joe Kinnan were earlier recipients.
"It's humbling because I know them," Neff said. "It means a lot because growing up the way I did, being involved in church and scouts, the scout's oath still means something. I hope I have lived up to that. I've tried."
The Good Scout Award affirms it, Henry Miller said.
"It's about recognizing
somebody in the community who exemplifies the ideals of scouting in their personal and public lives," the Manatee district executive said.
Neff became an Eagle Scout in 1958 with Troop 33 in Mattoon, Ill.
"To make Eagle Scout you had to work your way up through the ranks, working on merit badges," he said. "Swimming and livesaving were my biggest challenges."
Setting up a pup tent as a scout paid off in Army boot camp.
"First time we went on bivouac, we dug a trench so the rain water flows out, not into the tent," he said. "The city slickers didn't know about digging trenches, so they had wet clothes all week."
After joining the Illinois National Guard in 1960, Neff and his future wife, Judy, moved here in 1962 and he transferred to the Florida National Guard, going onto success as a part-time soldier and a fulltime banker.
He spent 39 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve, retiring in 1999 as a brigadier general. His military awards include:
n Legion of Merit
n Florida Cross (twice), the Florida National Guard's highest award for service
n Florida National Guard Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame
n Army War College 2009 Outstanding Alumnus Award.
Neff was involved in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, commanded a unit in Kuwait in 2004 and was mobilized to Baghdad during a three-night missile attack.
"I've learned a lot of the principles of leadership and management and applied them directly in the workplace and the bank," he said
Neff spent 49 years in banking, retiring in 2010 as M&I Bank chairman, West Coast Florida Region.
His resume includes:
n Manatee County president of First Florida Bank
n Retail area manager for Barnett Bank
n President and chief executive officer of American Bank and American Bancshares Inc.
n President of Gold Bank Florida.
n Executive vice president, chief personal banking and wealth management officer for Gold Banc Corp. Inc.
Neff was named 2004 Banker of the Year by the Florida Bankers Association.
He has also served on several nonprofit boards including:
n Blake Medical Center
n Manatee Chamber of Commerce
n Manatee Rural Health Clinic Foundation
n South Florida Museum
n United Way
n Economic Development Council
n Bradenton Downtown Development Authority
n Sunny Land Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Neff is also an elder and past trustee of First Presbyterian Church of Bradenton.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix