Article by: Daniel Jachim
On June 19, 2015, ISM elementary school teacher Travis O’Neel was in a serious motorcycle accident while traveling in Thailand. Five days later, his injuries proved too severe, and he passed away at the Bumrungrad International Hospital with his wife and two sons by his side. His loss can be felt around the school, especially in the hearts of all those who had the pleasure of knowing him, for his impact has been far-reaching and in more ways than one.
In his five years at ISM, Mr. O’Neel taught the 2nd and 3rd grades, most recently focusing on 2nd grade ESL. Before arriving at ISM, he taught at international schools in Costa Rica and Thailand. Attesting to his impact as a teacher, Travis is described by the family of Aarav Ghimire, one of his former students, as a man who helped their son “bloom and develop a personality” that they are immensely proud of.
A man of many talents, Travis is also remembered as an outstanding athlete. As captain, Travis led the University of North Dakota’s 2001 National Championship football team in tackles and was a two-time Academic All-NCC. Head coach Bubba Schweigert describes him as “one of our all greats,” while friend Deborah Jensen recalls seeing his picture in the local paper in 1997, lifting the trophy after he won the state championship.
As a tribute to his outstanding character and friendship, he is celebrated by one friend as a man “who touched so many lives with his kind and generous spirit.” Even childhood acquaintance Brett Johnson, a man who hasn’t seen Travis in nearly 20 years, writes, “I played high school football with Travis and did not know him well, but he always treated me well and he will be missed.” What does it say about someone if those who barely knew him two decades ago still remember him fondly today?
An online fundraiser, organized to help his family, has already received nearly $40,000 in donations from all over the world: Grand Forks, North Dakota, Riyadh, and his last home, Manila. In a newscast, FOX9 News in Minneapolis even reported that the University of North Dakota planned to create a Travis O’Neel Scholarship Fund to honor his life.
Here at ISM, beyond a small clump of trees, rather appropriately just around the ES playground where the weight of his life lay heaviest on our campus, stands the tree dedicated to the memory of Travis O’Neel: teacher, father, husband, son, friend, football legend, and so much more.