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Home > Education > Museums > Big Fresno Fair Museum > The Life of J.E. O'Neill

The Life of J.E. O'Neill

Namesake for the J.E. O’Neill Hall, Home of The Big Fresno Fair Museum

From 1943 to his death in 1961, J.E. O’Neill served as President or Director of the Fresno District Fair. He saw the Fair as a perfect vehicle to promote and honor the agriculture and livestock industries. As a director, he worked tirelessly to plan and promote both.

His greatest pleasure was to walk the grounds observing the fairgoers enjoying the displays and attractions. He was a friend to many who worked at the Fair, from the gentlemen and exhibitors to the jockeys and track officials. His leadership was based on his belief the belonged to everyone and everyone was integral to its success.

Jack O’Neill was also an avid horseman, riding with the Sheriff’s Posse and with Rancheros Vistadores in Santa Barbara. His love of horses inspired him to champion expanding horse racing at the Fair. He owned several race horses that included War Dad, the grandson of Man of War. His stable of race horses was a presence at the Fresno Fair and many California tracks. His family still holds his four grandstand boxes on the finish line!

Jack O’Neill was a cattleman, starting one of the first feedlots in the San Joaquin Valley as part of his farming holdings in Five Points, California. His enterprises included O’Neill Meat Company, Foods for Better Living, and the television station, the former KJEO, Channel 47 in Fresno.

Mr. O’Neill’s vast interests and accomplishments include helping to organize a brokerage house and advisory service for cotton growers that became known as Producers Cotton Oil Company. He served on that board and its President for many years.

Education in agricultural fields was very important to Mr. O’Neill. He advised and sponsored many projects with the Ag Department on the Fresno State Campus. His substantial contributions were memorialized with the dedication of O’Neill Park shortly after his death.

From 1952 until his death, Mr. O’Neill was President of Westlands Water District. This association led to the biggest undertaking of his career and one that he would not see completed. His presence in the halls of the Capitols in Washington D.C. and Sacramento underscored his uncompromising stand on the importance of water to the success of farming in the Valley.

Jack O’Neill’s leadership in the effort to combine State and Federal resources in the building and development of the San Luis Dam Project west of Los Banos was recognized in 1968 with the unveiling of a memorial plaque designating the O’Neill Forebay and Dam.

Farmer, cattleman, rancher, and pioneer in water development for the San Joaquin Valley; J.E. O’Neill is remembered not only for his amazing accomplishments, but for his kindness, generosity and good will to all.
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