Nearly everyone knows Dewey Neild, but none of us knew him as Dewitt Eugene Neild, before his college buddies adopted his father’s nickname, which still fits today. Growing up in the town of Hannibal, New York, near Oswego, Dewey was the oldest of four boys, plus one little sister.
As children, Dewey and the next two brothers sang in a trio at church. In the ’60s, Dewey was in a rock and roll band, singing and playing the trumpet, but photography was his most enduring love.
In seventh grade, Dewey took a basement closet and converted it into a darkroom. He mailed $10 to the Edmund Scientific Company, which sold surplus optics and hardware.
“Lots of their stuff was army surplus, and in 1965, they advertised a ‘Do Your Own Developing’ kit,” he said.
And he did. By high school, he had spent many hours spellbound as he taught himself to develop film in his homemade darkroom.
After graduating from Jefferson Community College, Dewey and a friend came to Ithaca to visit, and that was it. In 1972, Dewey landed a job and spent the next six years as manager of a camera store in Ithaca. When he wasn’t working, Dewey was always taking pictures, developing and printing.
In 1979, Dewey was ready to go out on his own. He was familiar with all the equipment—enlargers, projectors, filters lens, slides, negatives, color and black and white. He knew lots about lighting and composition, color negative and slide film developing.
In 2003, Dewey produced his first Ithaca Calendar, thanks to the encouragement of the Schug brothers Peter and Barney of Cayuga Press. By then, he was already involved with the Lions Club and Rotary, so he had many contacts.
Ithaca merchants purchased his first calendars custom-printed with their business name in quantities of 250 and 500, and then the calendars were given out by the merchants to their customers and friends. Two of the first business friends to purchase the calendars were Larry Baum and Mary Stazi, generous owners of the Computing Center. They purchased 1,000 Ithaca Calendars annually for many years to give as holiday gifts.
When Dewey wasn’t creating and distributing his Ithaca Calendars, he was photographing weddings (42 weddings in one of his busiest years) doing specialty commercial jobs (returning developed film within 24 hours, as compared to the standard three-to-five-day wait).
Dewey observed that he liked all the parts of the professional photography practice he had created—meeting new clients, photographing, developing the film and making the prints. He enjoyed the social aspect but also savored the solitary time in the dark room.
As Dewey reflects on his photography hobby dating back to seventh grade, he smiles to think he has been able to stick with what gives him so much pleasure. And along the way, the art he has created and shared has brought so much joy to others. People stop Dewey on the street or at Rotary meetings to comment on a favorite calendar photo. Sometimes, he walks into an office or a store and finds his calendar hanging on the wall.
For those few folks in Ithaca who have not seen Dewey Neild’s Ithaca Calendars, they nonetheless smile and wave to Dewey. Their eyes light up when they recount their favorite “Santa with pets at Christmas at Agway” story. Families with five dogs wearing reindeer headdress, two bunny rabbits in a headlock cuddled by a 5-year-old, all wearing matching jingle bell necklaces. The Dewey at Agway at Christmas stories are endless, as folks still hang their Dewey-Santa-Agway photos every Christmas season.
Photography has been the central theme in Dewey’s life, with lots of community service filled in between photo shoots. He has helped with Ithaca Sunrise Rotary Great Ithaca Bake-off, Spaghetti Dinner and Senior Citizens Sunday Luncheons.
But travel, too, is on Dewey’s bucket list for a full life. And to add that component, Dewey has spent the last 10 years lending a hand at the Ithaca Airport. For five and a half years, Dewey learned the ropes at Delta Airlines. Now, he puts in two to three days a week with American Airlines.
“Every day is different, and it has been fascinating to learn every element of air service—the crews, the equipment, check-in, boarding, loading and unloading luggage, even the de-icing,” Dewey said. “The airlines teams have been so helpful yet attentive to all the essential safety protocols that keep air travel safe. Airlines workers are remarkably supportive of each other, and scheduling is worked out amongst co-workers. I have learned everything about the job, and it is awesome. Plus, I get to travel, anywhere, anytime.”
This winter, Dewey will be dashing off between shifts to photograph winter weddings and festival occasions. For the few local people who don’t already wave to Dewey, they will soon cross paths, lugging suitcases or all dressed up as they smile for Dewey about to make yet another Ithaca memory.
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