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Thursday April 24, 2014
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Joe the Builder



O'Neal was the founding chair of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway, a group that advocates building parks and paths along the buried course of Allen Creek. "Fingerle's property, [the parking lot at] First and William, [the former city garages at] 415 West Washington [and] 721 N. Main. I can name you every property along there--I've talked with all of them."

In his vision, people could walk or bike along the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks from Stadium Boulevard to the Huron River, "and never cross a street and never cross the railroad. And it's possible, and it's doable, if you're confident. You have to have a vision, and you have to be confident you can carry it out."

He's also a strong supporter of the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts. He says, modestly, that he thinks that a little of that passion "comes from when I tried to play the cornet in high school and found out I'm not a musician. Karen and her family are very much in the arts." Karen owns Out of Hand Papermaking Studio, where she makes art papers from natural fibers and teaches.

His third passion is a historic mill in Macon, south of Saline, that was once owned by Henry Ford. There, at least, he's still a hands-on builder--he's just moved, rebuilt, and rewired a shed Ford built. He's also built a dam that's not just a tribute to his boyhood fascination with water--it's an exact re-creation, in miniature, of the Mountain Park Dam.

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