Bob & Jan
Robert “Bob” Neely was born at Grinnell, Iowa on July 7, 1915. Bob played center on
the Grinnell High football team and was also a school wrestler (145 lbs). After
graduation, he entered Grinnell College, taking an art course as well as the academic. He
played freshman football, but left college before he could join the varsity. For a time Bob
was a guide at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, but He decided
the best way to develop his art talent was to transfer to the Minneapolis School of Art in
Minnesota. He pursued his studies 3 years, but spent his summers away from school. The
first summer (1934) he spent in Maine, making sketches of its rugged scenery; the 2nd he
studied water colors with the eminent Elliot O’Hara; the 3rd he worked as a life guard.
After finishing at Minneapolis, he went to Europe, studying and also teaching at the Mac
Jannett School at Annecy in the French Alps. Long on ambition but short of cash, Bob
figured out a plan to finance his trip and education. He sold options on the paintings he
planned to do while studying abroad. Bob completed enough paintings to repay his
backers. Several of Bob’s paintings were chosen by the Minneapolis Art Institute for
their permanent exhibit.
Janet “Jan” Alarik was born to Hilding and Georgine Alarik at Grand Forks, North
Dakota on February 24, 1914. Her father was a native of Sweden, and her mother was a
Norwegian. The Alariks moved around a bit, and Jan attended no less than 10 grade
schools. Her high school years, however, were all spent at West High, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, from which she graduated in 1933. Each summer she won an art scholarship,
which provided tuition for special work at the Minneapolis Art Institute. As an 18 year
old senior, she won one school art contest that was open to the entire city of Minneapolis.
She designed a seal that appeared on all official mail invitations to the national
convention of the department of superintendence of the National Education Association
held in that city. Jan was also selected by Scholastic magazine, a national school
publication, as one of the 100 outstanding high school students who had their entries of
creative art accepted. Her still life was chosen out of a total of 15,000 art works
submitted by high school students throughout the country. While attending school, she
taught art classes for children each Saturday. Jan attended the Minneapolis School of Art
for 4 years and graduated in May of 1937. Then Jan went abroad with two other girl
friends for travel and study. Jan had won a scholarship for that purpose from the
Minneapolis Art Institute. They visited art galleries, museums, and cathedrals for 3
months, in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and England. In Sweden Jan called on
relatives and managed to get along well despite her lack of knowledge of Swedish. Part
of the money for this trip had been raised by the painting of portraits, mostly pastels, on
Bob and Jan had gone together during their art school days in Minneapolis, and the fact
that both were in Europe in the summer of 1937 was not entirely accidental. They were
married in Rome on December 5 by a chief magistrate of the Fascist court at Campidolgio.
This civil service was read in Italian. Upon the advice of the American consulate, they
were married again, 2 days later, at St. Paul’s American church. The couple bicycled
from Annecy, on the French border, to Marseille, Nice and the Riviera. Later Bob
bought a motorcycle, and Jan became a passenger, sharing the back seat with their luggage.
They had to find the United States consul to get visas for Italy, and at Toulon they nearly
landed in jail because they motored through the gates into the naval base, unmolested
by the guard, who was busy sawing wood. They had their cameras with them and took
many shots around the base, not knowing it was illegal to even be there. When they were
caught, their cameras were confiscated and the film destroyed. The cameras were given
back with a lecture that neither understood.
The British consul was a big help in securing visas to enter Italy, since neither Bob nor
Jan had brought birth certificates with them. He fixed things up using the information on
their passports. They visited Pisa and Florence before reaching Rome. As Newlyweds,
They were allowed an 80% discount on a travel tour that took them to Greece and the
Aegean Islands. They arrived by freighter at Mikonos Island and took advantage of
accommodations offered by the National Art Gallery for foreign students. For 3 months
they painted no less than 50 canvases. Deciding to see Egypt, they sailed on a freighter to
Port Said, arriving on Christmas Eve. But they lacked visas and could not go ashore.
Instead of Christmas carols, they spent the night listening to the screeching and groaning
of machinery landing cargo. They tried to go down the gangplank, just to be able to say
that they had been on Egyptian soil, but were prevented by guards.
The couple took to rail travel, visiting Bologna and Venice before they headed for
Austria. Hitler had just taken over and their passports were confiscated at Innsbruck,
forcing them to acquire new ones. But they reached Munich and also had a couple of
weeks at Nuremberg. The United States consul advised them to get out of the country and
they went to Paris, where they learned that there was a war on. They had been in Europe
some 11 months and their funds had begun to look very small. But while in Florence, Jan
had received a letter from Minneapolis containing $100 prize money from a painting,
which a friend had entered for her at an Art Institute showing.
It was not until May 1938 that the Neelys returned to Minneapolis. Both taught art that
summer, Bob sculpture and Jan oil, water color and pastel work. When they had saved
enough money, they went to New York for a winter at the Art Students League to augment
their education. In the summer of 1939 Bob was asked to be official photographer for
Basin Harbor, Vermont, on the shore of Lake Champlain. Bob had taught photography as
well as sculpture in Grinnell. He had also been a newspaper photographer in Minneapolis.
He returned to Minneapolis in the Fall after seeing the World’s Fair in New York.
Bob took a job in a commercial photographer’s studio to provide for a new addition to
the family, his first son, Richard, born on St. Valentine’s Day in 1940. In February of
1941 Bob took over a deceased photographer’s studio in Grinnell. After Pearl Harbor he
enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a photographer. He was commissioned Second
Lieutenant in the fall of 1943 and trained at Boca Raton in Florida. Then He was
assigned to a technical school at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
At Central Lutheran Church
On August 10, 1943 a second son, Keith, was born. Then Bob was assigned to
Hollywood, California to study cinematography. In his outfit were Clark Gable, Van
Hefflin, and a Captain Ronald Reagan, who was in charge of personnel. Jan and the 2
boys secured quarters in a motel at Long Beach, but Bob went overseas in March, 1944.
He trained in Glasgow, Scotland for his part in the Normandy invasion. He flew over the
beaches on photographic reconnaissance flights in a light bomber. Then Bob went on the
ground at St. Lo to photograph the work of the medical corps. He was in France from the
fall of 1944 to the spring of 1945 and flew many missions over the Rhine. Bob saw
action in the Battle of the Bulge as a cameraman with the 4th Combat Camera unit. He
was stationed about 20 miles west of London and made many long weary trips across the
English Channel with the paratroops and filmed them as they bailed out. They came back
with many holes in their plane from ground artillery and often returned with only one
engine. One day, on a flight from England to Denmark, Bob and the rest of the crew were
astounded to see German fighter planes all around them landing on Danish air fields.
They were, of course, relieved to learn that VE Day had arrived and the war was over.
Bob spent the rest of the summer in Paris, taking pictures of Generals and other
dignitaries, and wondering when he would be able to go home. Then He learned that he
was scheduled for transfer to the South Pacific, not the United States. But the atomic
bomb caused Japan to surrender sooner than expected, and Bob was at last sent home,
arriving October 15 and discharged December 18, 1945 at Fort MacArthur, California.
Jan’s brother, Goodwin Alarik, had opened an advertising business in Battle Creek,
Michigan and advised the Neelys to come and set up a photographic studio. They arrived
in May of 1946 and lived on the 2nd floor of the studio until they could buy a house in the
suburbs. Bob and Jan both held art classes at the studio in the evenings where they taught
sculpturing, life portrait, oil and water color. Jan did commercial art work during the day
while Bob ran the studio. One of Jan’s achievements that received wide publicity was the
life size murals of Grinnell College’s past great athletes memorial on the walls of the
college dining hall. Jan was also an instructor at the Battle Creek Civic Art Center. She
spent a summer in Connecticut doing special work for Robert Brackman, noted American
Jan’s artistry is a sort of family tradition. Her artist grandfather, Oscar Alarik, a native of
Sweden, established the first printing company in Sweden, the Goteborg Litografisca,
which, with its several branches, is still Sweden’s only big printing house. Her father,
Hilding Alarik, was advertising manager for the Hearst Newspapers. Hilding’s sister was
head of the Red Cross of Sweden and was the private nurse to the Royal family.
Bob was a member of the Photographic Association of America and has had the honor of
being included in “Who’s Who in American Art.” Like his father before him, he was a
Mason in the Grinnell Lodge. The night he took his Third Degree in Masonry, Bob was
presented with a Masonic pin, which had belonged to his grandfather, James Earl Neely.
Bob is also a private pilot, having soloed in November 1946, from Kellogg Field in
The story of Bob and Jan must now come to an end. Together they were a rather
remarkable team. They went to school together, tramped Europe together, shared a career
together, and raised 2 boys together. But Jan returned to Minneapolis with their boys in
September of 1948, and Bob remained in Battle Creek. Bob and Jan were now to travel
down different paths, each winning acclaim in their own individual pursuits, but never
again would the magic return.
Bob gave up his studio and moved to Chicago to specialize in cinematography. With the
launching of Sputnik and the resulting race for space, there was a great need for photo
technicians on the Atlantic Missile Range. Bob answered the call and went “down range”
to photograph the nose cone reentry phase of the intercontinental ballistic missile
(ICBM) tests. Since splashdown was in the vicinity of Ascension Island in the South
Atlantic, Bob spent a great deal of time at sea. It was like being in the war again.
Becoming weary of constant travel, Bob later transferred to permanent duty at Cape
Canaveral to cover the launch phase of missile testing. He also did documentary
photography on the various stages of spacecraft assembly for NASA. He retired from
the U.S Air Force Reserve as a Major.
Jan passed away February 17, 1982, in Los Angeles, California.
Bob passed away January 9, 1992, in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
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