From the Ground Up: the Story of Jillann Neely

Jillann Neely
Jillann Neely

When Jillann Neely first came to OCC in 1979, the hospitality program didn’t exist. As a budding professional, she was tasked with creating the program from the ground up. Thirty-eight years later, she has accomplished that and so much more, leaving a lasting mark on OCC.

Growing up, Neely was always drawn to working with food. At age 15, she started waiting tables. Going into college, she was drawn to the chemical aspects of food which led her to nutrition. Neely’s interests evolved to include teaching and, after earning her degree, she started working at SUNY Cobleskill. It didn’t take long for her hard work to go unnoticed. Soon she was at OCC facing the daunting task of building a program from scratch.

Neely knew her task was difficult, but she was undeterred. “It never occurred to me at the time there was something I couldn’t do. The possibilities were endless in my mind.” It took time and many hours of hard work, but with persistence and the support of the campus community she accomplished her goal.

Along the way, Neely has continually sought to improve the hospitality program, adding new programs, improving facilities and making more connections with the community. Neely has touched countless student’s lives, propelling them to success in their field. She’s served as a consultant for growing restaurants and has helped many refugees start new lives as restaurant owners. She’s even made history. Former Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill in 1984 that made her recipe for the apple muffin the official recipe of the New York State muffin.

With one month to go until retirement, Neely is not slowing down. She’s working on a new course to be launched in the fall, a department chair manual for similar departments, new community-based cooking and wine courses, overseeing the renovations to the hospitality facilities and making sure that her replacement can fill her very big shoes.

OCC will always be grateful to Neely for starting the hospitality management program. She’ll leave us on May 22nd to start her retirement, though there is no sign of her slowing down anytime soon. “I plan to do some traveling, volunteering and do some consulting work. I don’t think I’ll be slowing down!”

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