From John Duskey '63
John Neil Tift, a native of Charles City, Iowa, entered Campion in the fall of 1961, as a member of the class of 1965. I was a junior at the time and came to know him as a member of the band, where he, as a trombone player, stood next to me when we lined up in marching formation. When we got back in touch a few months ago, I found his story particularly interesting and exemplary. Like Neil, I was a special education teacher and administrator, but he showed great initiative in starting programs and meeting the needs of various types of clients.
Unfortunate family circumstances made it necessary for him to leave Campion after his sophomore year. I did not know about this at the time, as I graduated in spring of 1963. But for John Neil Tift, life went on in Charles City-where he transferred to the public high school and finished his last two years there. The school had a two year foreign language requirement, but he was required to take two years of Spanish, because the school, in a typical anti-Catholic spirit at the time, did not accept his credits for two years of Latin at Campion. His family moved from Iowa to the Twin Cities in 1966. It was during this time that John decided that he would use his middle name, Neil, in future educational and professional work.
He continued his studies at Loras College in Dubuque, where he majored in Psychology and graduated in 1969. Neil had also taken courses to become a Special Education teacher. Thus, he was able to begin his working career as a teacher at Christ Child School, a Catholic school for students with developmental disabilities, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He taught several subjects-Basic Math, English, History, and Daily Living Skills, as many special ed teachers do.
Four years later, with this experience, Neil was hired to develop and manage group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.
In 1974 Neil earned a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of St. Thomas, specializing in working with men.
In 1977 Neil and his wife flew to Bogota Colombia to adopt a 10 year old orphan with severe delays. Ophelia is now 52 and living in Minneapolis.
After earning his Social Work Certificate, he was employed at the University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education in Social Work to development training for community professionals working with low-income families.
In 1986, he opened Cabrini House, a transitional housing program for adults with chemical and mental health issues. In the course of this work, he encountered single homeless fathers at a time when there were no resources for these men.
In 1988 He married Denise, whom he met and hired to work in a group home for adult women with disabilities.
In June 1990, a week before Father's Day, Neil and another father quit their jobs and opened the first Father's Resource Center in the US.
This program was very successful, because of the huge needs for targeted services for dads. In April 1992, the Father's Resource Center received its first operating grant, which helped to stabilize the Center's funding and allowed it to grow to five offices across the Twin Cities within three years. The programs at the Center included anger management, parenting classes in English and Spanish, family law and child support clinics, drop-in groups for fathers of children with special needs, mentoring and mediation services In 1996, the FRC received the first HUD grant to provide transitional housing to homeless fathers and children in the nation. It continues to operate today
In March 1994, Neil was invited to participate in a fatherhood development conference in Nashville, convened by Vice President Al Gore. One outcome of this gathering of fatherhood professionals was the creation of a national organization to provide training for providers interested in creating resources for fathers across the nation. Neil was then hired as Director of Training for NPNFF in Washington DC, where he moved his family.
In 1996 Neil and his wife Denise adopted another daughter who was born cocaine-exposed and with fetal alcohol syndrome. Today she is 22 and living at home with the Tifts.
That same year, Neil was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church and has been assigned a variety of parishes and ministries over the past 23 years.
In 2002 Neil moved back to the Twin Cities to spend more time with his grandchildren and continue his work developing resources for fathers.
In 2007, he was asked to move to Mesa Arizona, where he was hired as the Director of Operations for the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association. He continues to work with NAFFA full-time, providing parent education, staff development and related services
Neil and Denise have been foster parents for the past 23 years and manage a non-profit agency -Paternal Instincts- that offers training to foster and adoptive parents wherever they are invited.
So, at 71 years of age, Neil continues to work with Native fathers on reservations and urban areas across the country, share foster parenting responsibilities with his wife, teach ethics at a local university and volunteer as a deacon at Christ the King Parish in Mesa Arizona.