Richard Hammill, president of Andrews University, signs a birthday greeting for John Peter Neff’s 100th birthday. Don Prior (left), vice president of development, and public relations, and Wilson Trickett, president of the Andrews University Alumni Association. 

1973. [A birthday card for John Peter Neff's 100th birthday]. Database on-line. Center for Adventist Research Image Database. http://centerforadventistresearch.org/photos (accessed Nov 18, 2019).

Neff, John Peter (1873–1973)

By Betty Carol Patterson Spalding

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Betty Carol Patterson Spalding, MMUSED, MMUS (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), has lead orchestras and choirs along with lessons in violin, viola and piano, for 40 years. She worked in western Canada, U.S.A., Puerto Rico and Jamaica. She has taught in music conservatories and also started music conservatories in the music departments. As a genealogist, she has written family history.

First Published: January 29, 2020

John Peter Neff was a teacher and educational administrator. He was president of Lafayette College in Lafayette, Alabama, for seven years, and superintendent of the city schools in Richmond and Staunton, Virginia, for 12 years. He served on the State Board of Examiners for teachers of Virginia for ten years and was secretary of education for the Columbia Union Conference for 27 years.1

Early Life

Neff was born April 13, 1873, on the family farm in Mount Jackson, Virginia, to Abraham Charles Neff, born in Rude’s Hill, Virginia, and Louisa Myers, born in Forestville, Virginia.2 Abraham Neff was the first SDA minister ordained in Virginia and the first president of the newly formed Virginia Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists in 1883.3 The Neff farm was the place of the first camp meeting of the newly formed Virginia Conference because of its location: the railway ran next to his farm.4 In the 1880 and the 1900 census the Neffs were living in Lee, Shenandoah County, Virginia.5

John Neff attended Battle Creek College in Battle Creek, Michigan, and graduated in 1894 with a BA degree. He stayed in Battle Creek and taught mathematics for two years. He then attended the University of Virginia and the University of Mississippi to further his education.6

Career

Neff lived in Staunton, Virginia, in 1910 and 1920, according to the census.7 He was one of the educators honored for their contributions to education.8 During World War I Neff was on a committee in Staunton that promoted assistance to the soldiers. He also raised funds for the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other programs providing relief to soldiers.9

Later, as education secretary for Columbia Union Conference, he supervised all levels of education, from elementary to college. In this position he started many elementary schools. Promoting Christian education in the Columbia Union Visitor (November 18, 1926), Neff wrote that church-related schools would give children a Christian education that will give them a good foundation for the rest of their lives, enabling them to develop a love for the Bible that would be a positive influence for good. Neff strongly believed that our children need a Christian education from elementary through to college to keep them in God’s hands.10

Family

He married Martha (Mattie) B. Ellett on December 22, 1896, in Richmond, Virginia.11 They had two children: John D. Neff, born in Richmond, Virginia, and Margret L. Neff, born in Lafayette, Alabama. John and Mattie were living in Washington, D.C., in 1935 and 1940, according to the 1940 census.12 Mattie died March 31, 1949, in Staunton, Virginia, and was buried in the Thornrose Cemetery, Staunton, Virginia.

He then married Alice Clarine Stone on June 25, 1950, in Hillside, Virginia.13 She was assistant director and instructor in nursing at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Retirement

After many years working for the church in education, John retired to grow apples. This was something that had interested him for a number of years. He gave up the orchards when he was 98 years old.14

He lived a good long life of 100 years doing God’s work. He died August 12, 1973, in the Emmet Memorial Hospital in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He was buried at the Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton.15

Sources

Harris, Richard E. Divine Destiny, 1995. Accessed October 14, 2019. https://www.newmarketadventist.org/wp-content/uploads/Divine-Destiny-book.pdf.

Maryland. Montgomery County. 1940 United States Census. National Archives and Records Administration. www.ancestry.com.

“John Peter Neff obituary.” Columbia Union Visitor 78, no. 1 (November 8, 1973).

Neff, J. P. “Our Schools.” Columbia Union Visitor 31, no. 46 (November 18, 1926).

Root-Plummer-Dean family tree. www.ancestry.com.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1884. Accessed October 14, 2019. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/YB1884.pdf.

Shenandoah Valley Academy. Accessed October 14, 2019. www.SHENANDOAHVALLEYACADEMY.ORG.

Virginia. Shenandoah County. 1880 United States Census. National Archives and Records Administration. www.ancestry.com.

Virginia. Shenandoah County. Ward 2. 1910 United States Census. National Archives and Records Administration. www.ancestry.com.

Virginia. Shenandoah County. Ward 2. 1920 United States Census. National Archives and Records Administration. www.ancestry.com.

Virginia Marriage Records, 1936–2014. J. P. and Alice Neff. www.ancestry.com.

Wayland, John Walter. A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia. Strasburg, Virginia: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., 1969.

Notes

  1. Richard E. Harris, Divine Destiny (1995), 11, accessed October 14, 2019, https://www.newmarketadventist.org/wp-content/uploads/Divine-Destiny-book.pdf.

  2. Root-Plummer-Dean family tree, www.ancestry.com.

  3. “Ministers Directory” and “State Conferences,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1884), 22, 25, accessed October 14, 2018, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/YB1884.pdf.

  4. Shenandoah Valley Academy, accessed October 14, 2019, www.SHENANDOAHVALLEYACADEMY.ORG.

  5. 1880 United States Census, Shenandoah County, Virginia, National Archives and Records Administration, www.ancestry.com.

  6. “John Peter Neff obituary,” Columbia Union Visitor 78, no. 21 (November 8, 1973): 14.

  7. 1910 United States Census, Ward 2, Staunton, Virginia, National Archives and Records Administration, www.ancestry/.com; 1920 United States Census, Ward 2, Statunton, Virginia, National Archives and Records Administration, www.ancestry/.com.

  8. John Walter Wayland, A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia (Strasburg, Virginia: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., 1969), 443, 444.

  9. “John Peter Neff obituary.”

  10. J. P. Neff, “Our Schools,” Columbia Union Visitor, 31, no. 46 (November 18, 1926): 1.

  11. Root-Plummer-Dean family tree.

  12. 1940 United States Census, Montgomery County, Maryland, National Archives and Records Administration, www.ancestry.com.

  13. Virginia Marriage Records, 1936–2014, J. P. and Alice Neff, www.ancestry.com.

  14. “John Peter Neff obituary,”

  15. Ibid.

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Spalding, Betty Carol Patterson. "Neff, John Peter (1873–1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=69UV.

Spalding, Betty Carol Patterson. "Neff, John Peter (1873–1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=69UV.

Spalding, Betty Carol Patterson (2020, January 29). Neff, John Peter (1873–1973). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=69UV.