“When I retired (in 2018), somebody came up to me and said, ‘Hey, man, they’re probably going to give you the key to the city,’” Neal recalled. “I’m like, ‘Nah, that was too huge to think about.’ So, now, I’m very surprised.”
He shouldn’t be. Evans credits Neal with helping to forge her identity at a young age when she and her brother, Ben, were being reared by a single mother. She speaks in almost reverent tones about his influence on her life.
“I had an opportunity to go (to the recreation center) as a youth and later had the opportunity to organize in that area, and Danny was always there,” Evans said. “Always. Danny always looked out for the kids. He was like an uncle or a big brother, teacher and mentor. He’s been that to all of us. As I grew into a young adult and adult, I still considered Danny as my mentor.”
What Flagstaff kids found when they approached Neal at the rec center was a man always willing to lend a hand, solve a problem, shoot hoops with. Evans said his steadying presence was invaluable to her growing up.
“Just knowing that you have an adult that cares about you in the community is huge,” Evans said. “If there’s something going on, you could go over there and have a conversation with Danny, go shoot hoops with him. As an adult, I went to the rec center several times and said, ‘Hey, can I pick your brain about something?’ I knew I could go over and have a conversation with him at any time about anything. And there wasn’t going to be any judgment. He wouldn’t necessarily try to fix it, but he did have some good insight into what was going on. He listened. And he took the time to listen.”