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English and Philosophy Department Announces New Dolsen Visiting Writer Event Endowment

October 3, 2022

Two men

The Department of English and Philosophy has received a generous donation to support the creation of the Dolsen Visiting Writer Event Endowment, a fund that will support the Department to bring a visiting writer to campus annually for a public reading and educational activities with students. 

The endowment has been established by Tom Neel, an alumnus of the B.A. in English program. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English with minors in Philosophy and French in 1987. While at ISU, Neel wrote and published poetry and fiction. After graduation, he earned an M.A. in Comparative Literature from University of South Carolina and, since then, he has pursued a successful career in U.S. national security. 

Neel established the Dolsen Visiting Writer Event Endowment to honor the mentorship, friendship, and respect between him and Professor Arthur Dolsen and his late wife, Marijana, and their daughter, Daria. Dolsen is Professor Emeritus of Languages and Literatures at Idaho State University, where he taught courses in Latin, Russian, and French.

Neel fondly recalls the connection he formed with Professor Dolsen and his family while he was a student at Idaho State, a time when he also occupied a basement apartment in Professor Dolsen’s house.

"The Dolsens became the centerpiece of my intellectual and physical campus life—a life of fascinating guided dinners, amazing books and languages, classical ideas and music,” he said. This relationship formed a “deep connection which has lasted over 40 years.”

Neel, who currently lives in Northern Virginia, returns to Idaho annually to visit family. He splits his time “between the spiritually enlarging ranch life of the Idaho landscapes” and the Dolsen household. Through the years, the “huge Eastern European dinners,” featuring discussions of books and languages, have become his “intellectual heart and home.” He also describes how this relationship provided a foundation for a successful career in U.S. national security, where he has been able to contribute to U.S. policy and work for the world’s safety and security. He says, “I could not have accomplished this without the anchor and foundation the Dolsen family gave to me as a student and continue to provide for me now.”

Neel has roots in Idaho that go back five generations, and he has a multigenerational connection to ISU. His mother, Colleen Stibal Neel graduated from ISU with a degree in business in 1958, and his mother and father, Rear Admiral W.C. Neel were longtime ISU benefactors. His aunt, Sherry Stibal Dunbar, of Salmon graduated from ISU in Nursing in 1968. He is the cousin of Agnes Just Reid (1886-1976), a daughter of Idaho pioneers, who is memorialized in an English Scholarship, the Agnes Just Reid Scholarship.  

Professor Dolsen also appreciates his friendship with Neel, saying, “My connection with Tom Neel goes back 39 years” to Dolsen’s first year of teaching at Idaho State University. Neel began his study of French in elementary French with Dolsen. Professor Dolsen continued, “I am very touched by this gesture” and “honored by Tom’s recognition of my teaching and our long connection.” 

Bethany Schultz Hurst, Professor of Creative Writing at Idaho State, expresses gratitude for this new endowment. “Creative Writing at ISU is delighted by Tom Neel’s generosity in creating this endowment.” She says, “It gives our students the amazing opportunity to listen to and to learn from significant regional and national writers face-to-face— it helps bring the larger literary world to our corner of Idaho.” 

Jessica Winston, Chair of the Department of English and Philosophy, said “this is a tremendous gift.” She continued, this support for visiting writers will “help us broaden awareness of some of the best new creative writing today” and to foster for ISU students and the community, the “kinds of intellectual and social interactions that were and are so significant for Mr. Neel” and that will be “transformative for our students today.”

Neel is passionate about supporting programs that had the greatest impact on him as a student and in his career. In 2021, he established a student scholarship in Philosophy in tribute to Carl Levenson, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, another influential professor in his college years with whom he has also maintained a life-long friendship. 

Kandi Turley-Ames, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, commented:  “I appreciate Mr. Neel’s recognition of Professor Dolsen and Professor Levenson.” She continued, “I am moved by Mr. Neel's continued and generous support of the faculty and programs that were so transformative for him as a student and that continue to shape his life today.” She thanked Mr. Neel for his supporting programs “that will enrich student experiences at Idaho State for years to come.” 

The first Dolsen Visiting Writer Event will feature visiting poet Matthew James Babcock, who teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at BYU-Idaho. His most recent book is “Hidden Motion” (Finishing Line Press 2022). 

Professor Bethany Schultz Hurst describes Babcock’s poetry as “wonderfully funny.” She observes that he uses “precise language” that “makes space for sincerity and profundity.” She continues, Babcock’s poetry opens us up to be “dazzled by the luminance of an abundant world.” The public reading is scheduled Wednesday, October 19, 2022 at 5 p.m. in the Bengal Cafe in the Pond Student Union Building. 



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