Lucas Vega • Staff Writer
The entire student body would likely agree with the following description: a Sudexo cashier at UT Tyler is an employee who stands behind a wooden desk at one of the entrances to the UC. Yet if you asked the same students to describe what the cashier does, the answers will vary greatly. Among these responses, you may hear something similar to any of the following:
“It’s the person who swipes your P2 card at the MET.”
“It’s the person who gives directions to students and guests”
“It’s the person who’s supposed to greet people as they enter the building.”
“It’s the person who cleans the tables in the dining area.”
This disparity is not the fault of the students, as the cashier has a variety of responsibilities that go beyond their title. In further defense, it is a job that requires the perspective of the employee to fully understand. Yet to make matters more difficult, it isn’t the same person every day. Sometimes it’s this person, sometimes it’s another.
Sometimes, however, it’s Larry Neely. If you ask Neely how he feels about his job, he won’t answer right away. He’ll stop what he’s doing, his eyes will wander and glisten, and a soft smile will form on his face. Neely will always provide an answer to this question, but only after he’s had a second to be thankful.
“I love my job,” he said “I really truly could not be more thankful, and I mean that. I truly believe God put me here.”
His statement is not an empty one. Anyone who enters the UC on a routinely basis will observe that Larry Neely is a very jovial individual whose work brings him great joy. He is genuinely happy to swipe the P2 cards of students, as it gives him an opportunity to ask them about their day.
“I like being around people,” Neely said “I am sincere when I ask you how you’re doing, I want people to be sincere with me because I sincerely care about them. If you’re having a good day, I want to know. If you’re having a bad day, I want to know. It’s not an act, I genuinely care about everyone here.”
For Neely, the specific job itself never mattered. As a man who has donned many uniforms, titles and positions, he is a firm believer in the impact his kindness can have. He is quick to attribute this part of himself to his faith.
“I’ve always trusted the Lord, especially when things got hard, “He has proven to me that He is always in control. The hardships in my life have led me to where I am today. You can have an affect on people regardless of where you work. You just have to ask God sincerely. You really have to care.”
His inclusion of the word “hardship” may take some by surprise, as Neely’s happy demeanor does not show scars of adversity. It is, however, a testament to his own character because Neely has had his share of hardships.
“Right out of high school, I volunteered for the Marine Core,” he said. “I made it all the way through training camp, but at the end they found out I had a hole in my ear, so they wouldn’t let me go to war. It was hard staying back; I had two friends that died over in Vietnam. I don’t consider myself a veteran. I technically am, but I never made that ultimate sacrifice.”
Despite the grief, Larry said he always had faith that God had other plans for him. He is thankful for what happened to him, as it provided an opportunity for him to serve the community in another way.
“I also worked as a chef for the Tennessee prison system," Neely said. “I was a part of the Michael Unit, meaning I cared for the mid-level criminals. They weren’t the killers, but they weren’t the traffic violators either. They were somewhere in the middle. I worked with several of them in the kitchen, and they brought me joy in my life as well.”
During his second year, Larry suffered a heat stroke that ended his tenure at the prison. Despite being in a situation that most employed individuals would describe as a nightmare, Larry remembers the event fondly, as it was the reason he came to Tyler.
“I worked at TJC for a while as the manager of the Apache Planes," he said. After I spent some time there, I found another opportunity at UT Tyler and became the manager of the Chick-fil-A upstairs.”
Neely says he enjoyed the job, but wasn’t able to remain in the position due to a second stroke. Similar to the prison he worked out, Neely’s employers wouldn’t allow him to work in the same environment that induced the stroke, so they moved him to the MET.
“I have never been more thankful, because the job I have now allows me to connect with people in a way I wasn’t able to back up at Chick-fil-A,” Neely said. “You know UT Tyler really could’ve just let me go, and they’d be justified to do so. But they cared about me enough to make sure I still had a job. If that act doesn’t fill you with joy I don’t know what to tell you.”
Neely is approaching his ten year anniversary working at the MET, and because of that, it is important to highlight not only what Larry thinks about the students, but what students think about Larry. Their opinions are not hard to find. Stand next to the wooden desk by the MET and listen.
When you do this, you’ll find out that unlike the description of an ordinary Sudexo cashier job, most individuals would agree that Larry Neely is the blessing he tries to be.
You’ll hear the occasional “Hey Mr. Neely!” coming from the entrance to the UC, or perhaps the phrase “Larry genuinely asked me how I was doing, and it made my day” will meet your ears in line at the MET. You might even hear the routine: “I wish more people were like Larry, he makes it a point to let people know he cares about them” will be in earshot.
Larry doesn’t hide how much he loves his job. You don’t need to ask him, he’ll show you through his actions. Yet if you do ask him, he’ll pause, his eyes will wander and glisten, his face will sprout a soft smile and he’ll give an answer. It comes out different every time, but the message is still the same.
“I wake up every day and say this prayer before I do anything else: ‘God, please help me have a positive influence on someone today, and please let me be a blessing today,’” Neely said. “That is the only thing that matters to me, and it is why I never worried about where life would take me. No matter where I work, I can always be that blessing to someone. Because of that, I am happy.”