The owner of the Pink Poodle Restaurant in Crescent passed away July 12 at age 60.
Born in Omaha to the late Robert and Karen (Radil) Branigan on April 18, 1959, Doreen McNeil graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1977.
Her family moved to a housing addition in Council Bluffs, where she met her high school sweetheart, John McNeil II.
“She played softball in church leagues and I lived a few doors down from her,” John said.
The couple married and moved to Crescent in 1978. They had three children: John McNeil III, Joseph McNeil and Josh McNeil, who are now 36, 35 and 32 years old.
Doreen had Parkinson’s disease, John said.
“She’s had it about 10 years now,” he said. “But I could see remnants of the disease earlier on. She couldn’t play softball anymore like she used to play. She was upset, but we went on with life.”
“We were always doing something. Before we had kids, we had two horses. She loved animals,” he said.
Doreen worked at Mutual of Omaha for over 30 years, but she began a second job as a waitress at Pink Poodle in 1983, eventually becoming close friends with former owner Mary Jo Paulison.
Paulison named Doreen the executor of her will when Paulison died in 2003.
Doreen then bought the restaurant, wanting to take care of the longtime employees who had become as close as family to her.
“I didn’t want them to lose their jobs,” Doreen said in an interview with The Daily Nonpareil in 2008. “It wasn’t a question of if we should buy it; we had to.”
Although John said he didn’t like the idea at first, the couple kept themselves busy with work, home and business ownership, and their children.
“She dearly loved Pink Poodle. That was her fun job,” John said.
In Crescent, John said the couple unknowingly bought a property inhabited by “a hundred cats.”
For more than 20 years, Doreen fed the cats around the property and Pink Poodle.
In 2012, the city ordered them to get rid of the feral cats.
“I didn’t realize there were that many cats. The city wanted to kill them all, but Doreen said no,” John said. “We trapped them live and took most of them to a shelter. They fixed 38 female cats total.”
John said Doreen felt sorry for the cats. They would follow her home after her shift at Pink Poodle.
“She would come home from the Poodle, a mass exodus followed from across the street. Cats of every shape, size and color,” he said.
Over time, some of the cats were hit by cars, poisoned or trapped and taken to the pound.
“I used to call her the mad cat lady from Crescent. There’s still three or four cats around now,” he said.
Cats weren’t the only animals she loved — the couple owns a German shepherd and two pekingese dogs.
“Parkinson’s is a disease of the muscle, the brain can’t tell your feet to move. She had trouble holding her eyes open, every day was something different. But she was a fighter,” he said.
Another joy in her life was her eight grandchildren.
“She dearly loved them, too. That was her joy. Spent as much time as she could with them,” he said.
For the last year or so, Doreen hasn’t been able to go to the Pink Poodle because of her decline in health.
“I didn’t realize she would go this fast. It’s only been a week since she passed ... it’s pretty quiet here now,” John said.
She was preceded in death by her parents and brother, Jeff Branigan.
She is survived by her husband of 41 years, John McNeil II; sons, John McNeil III (Ashley Schafer), Joseph McNeil (Jennifer), Josh McNeil (Ellie); siblings, Doug Branigan, Lynn Branigan (Gardner Broadbent), Mike Branigan, Jack Branigan (Rhonda), Suzi Peregoy (Tim), Ron Branigan (Joyce); mother-in-law, Barbara Crowder (Gene); 8 grandchildren and a host of other family and friends.
“Her poor dogs have been waiting by the door for her to come home. They really miss her,” he said. “She will be missed dearly.”
In recent years, John said they consolidated previously owned rental properties in attempt to simplify their life.
As far as the Pink Poodle and its employees, John said everyone is doing the best they can. So is the family, he said.
“(We’re) still numb, still grieving and that’s okay,” he said.