Neal Frank Viemeister

Neal Frank Viemeister

January 14, 1944 – November 3, 2020
On November 3, a day as brilliant as he was, Neal Frank Viemeister, 76, passed away peacefully at home on Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear Lake, MN. His wife, Ginny, and daughter, Katie, were by his side. Born to Willard and Marjorie Viemeister on January 14, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York, Neal grew up in Merrick on Long Island, beginning a life of living with water always close to home. Neal often shared fond memories of his New York childhood — accompanying his engineer father on project visits to landmarks around the city; watching the Brooklyn Dodgers play and sharing the photographic evidence of meeting Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges; building a sailboat with his dad and sailing in Great South Bay; and attending political rallies, Broadway plays and concerts with his parents, his sister Daryl and brother Glenn. Music was a constant in the Viemeister home. Neal played the saxophone and developed a love of Classical music that would become encyclopedic. His auditory passions started early; he built his first HeathKit stereo system as a youngster.Science, the other strong interest of his youth, took Neal to Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. His love of music led him to become involved in sound production for many traveling performance companies visiting the College, and he developed a fierce curiosity to understand human auditory perception. After an extensive exploration of the field and its leading researchers, Neal chose to pursue his doctorate in Psychoacoustics with James P. Egan, PhD at Indiana University with a minor in Mathematics. Though he completed his program through IU, Neal followed Jim to the University of Washington midway through his program to help set up Professor Egan’s lab. With his PhD completed, Neal filled a brief interim position at the University of Minnesota, giving him a taste of the institution that would become his academic home. Before it did, Neal completed a postdoc at the University of San Diego with David M. Green, PhD. In 1972, he returned to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities from San Diego to assume a tenure track position in the Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts. It was at Minnesota, over his 40-year career that Neal built an internationally renowned psycho-acoustics research program, in the company and support of treasured University colleagues. He helped to foster a tightly knit network of esteemed colleagues and friends in labs around the world, together training many of today’s leading scholars. A major focus of Neal’s research was to advance the understanding of how humans process changes in auditory intensity and timing. Largely funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, his research lab’s accomplishments have had broad implications for understanding speech and music perception, hearing impairment and speech processing for hearing aids. Neal was highly regarded as a rigorous and sometimes “thorny” associate editor and reviewer of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles over the years. Remembrances from Neal’s colleagues and students speak of a towering figure, sometimes gruff and always gracious, who made their work better. A Fellow in the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), Neal’s significant scientific contributions to the field were formally recognized in 2001 when he was awarded the ASA’s Silver Medal in Psychological and Physiological Acoustics for contributions to the understanding of temporal and intensive aspects of hearing. Neal married Linda Wilson in 1969, and they became parents to Katie in 1976. Following their divorce, Neal married his beloved, Ginny Kirby. Together with Linda and her husband, DJ Leary, they raised Katie and sent her out into the world to become first a teacher and now a doctor. It was Neal’s great joy when Katie settled back in Minnesota with her daughter, Grace, to begin her practice in Pediatrics. He loved being an active grandfather and looked forward to their weekly pancake breakfasts. Neal and Ginny made their home on Bald Eagle Lake with their sweet chocolate labs – first Zoey, then Maggie and now Tilly. The house has become a place of hospitality for family, friends and colleagues from near and far and the center of the Kirby clan’s family life. They often hosted gatherings for his University and visiting colleagues. Despite sometimes blustery protestations, Neal readily went along with Ginny’s plans to host family birthdays, pontoon cruises, cookouts, watch parties and Christmas. Over the course of their lifetimes, his nieces and nephews learned what his colleagues knew, Neal’s gruff expression was a crusty veneer over a gracious generosity and warmth of spirit. Each has stories to tell about the particular attention he paid to them. As one put it, “In Neal I had a serious adult who was genuinely interested in what I had to say, a professional question asker who had all the time in the world for me. The impact this had on my development, my self-confidence and my capacity for critical thought is far too great to convey with my feeble pen.” As he eased into retirement in 2014, Neal surprised family and friends when he became the innkeeper of Moorfield Lodge, overlooking Lough Swilly in Ramelton, Co. Donegal, Ireland (or Éire, as he preferred). Here too, Neal and Ginny welcomed guests from around the globe and explored different parts of the country during their six years traveling back and forth from Minnesota. He was as surprised as anyone by how deeply fond he grew of Ireland, its history and its people, especially his neighbors in Aughnagaddy Glebe. His heart was captured and held by the Fanad and Inishowen Peninsulas, between which Lough Swilly is situated. It saddened him not to be able to travel there one more time, and William Butler Yeats’ lines from the “Lake Isle of Innisfree” resonate as we remember him:I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. Neal was preceded in death by his father, Willard, and his mother, Marjorie Viemeister. He is survived by his wife Ginny, daughter Katie Otto, granddaughter Grace Otto, sister Daryl Summers, niece Alyssa Siegel, brother Glenn Viemeister, the Kirby family, and many, many dear friends and colleagues. While your love of Neal and devotion to Ginny, Katie, Grace and the rest of the family are all that is needed, should mourners wish to recognize Neal’s life through a memorial gift, we respectfully suggest the Acoustical Society of America Foundation (https://tinyurl.com/nfv-acoustical), Planned Parenthood (https://tinyurl.com/nfv-ppncs) or the charity of the donor’s choice. A memorial/celebration in honor of Neal will be held at a later date, when we are able to gather again safely and near the water.(Published in the Pioneer Press on November 29, 2020)