The Ending of the Nealis Dynasty at the People’s Marathon

By George Banker

The travels of Richard G. Nealis over the years went from the streets of South Philadelphia to the “Crossroads” of Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA. At one point Nealis entertained thoughts of becoming a priest and having a religious congregation. The dream was not fulfilled, and the congregation turned out to be a field of runners. Nealis in 1993 decided not to save souls but to be an influence on changing the mental and physical lives of the participants. This was the beginning of the “Nealis Dynasty.”

There are many articles detailing the list of accomplishments which Rick achieved during his reign. You have a fine meal only to discover the secret is in the sauce. This is true of being the Race Director of the Marine Corps Marathon. The secret was in Rick Nealis and having the personality and “tools and the talent” to get the job done. I know the military for having annexes, Warning Orders, and Operational Orders. Nealis may tell you that each week a new situation arose and there was no boiler-plate solution.

The mental picture is the introduction of the situation and then the spinning of the “personality wheel.” Nealis may be called upon to be the politician or a comedian to solve the situation. The audience could be the Base Commander at Quantico, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, or the National Park Service. In business terms, Nealis’s objective was a favorable Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), the most advantageous course of action. 

Nealis completed four MCMs with the 1983 race his best time of 3:09:50. I was a half-hour behind him at 3:39:00. Nealis got in before Ed Benham, the 76-old jockey from Ocean City, MD, with a time of 3:34:42. Benham still holds the age-group record.

In 1993, the female finish population was 20% and last year the number was 43%.  

The following is an excerpt from my 2011 interview with General P.X. Kelley regarding the Marine Corps Marathon:

“On July 1, 1981, I was promoted to the rank of General and assumed the position of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps. It was during that period I had two matters to consider, the first was the replacement of the CH-46 Sea Knight troop transport helicopter, the “Phrogs” which was purchased during the 1960s. The other issue was the fate of the Marine Corps Marathon.

“The marathon had grown in size and it exceeded the capacity for the Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th and I Street to continue to support the race. The initial position was to cancel the event after the 1981 race.

“On October 15, 1981, I convened the Chief of Staff’s Committee to discuss the future of the Marine Corps Marathon. Attending the meeting was Lt Gen Richard E. Carey who was promoted on October 24, 1980, and assumed duties as Commanding General, Marine Corps Education and Development Command (MCDEC), Quantico, VA, until February 28, 1983.

“Dick voiced strong support to maintain the Marine Corps Marathon, along with others, in the meeting. I was ready to cut a deal with Dick, who was willing to assume the responsibility for managing the marathon. My position was that no appropriated dollars would be used to support the race and that all military manpower required would be voluntary. I took Dick’s comments into consideration and made the decision to let the marathon continue.”

After the seventh Marine Corps Marathon (November 7, 1982) Lt Gen Richard E. Carey stated the following, ‘This is truly a People’s Run and we want to keep it so that anybody can run.’

The moving force behind the marathon was Colonel Jim Fowler (referred to as the founding father) along with the birth of the Ad hoc Publicity Committee, which included Herb Harmon, Buff Mondale, and Bill Mayhugh. The mission was to assist the Race Director and the Race Coordinator from that year to 1993 when Marine Corps Major Richard G. Nealis assumed the reins as the Race Coordinator. Nealis was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Bishop Neumann High School and Villanova University.

In 1983, the race entry fee was $21.00 and in 2022, it was $200.00. The Nealis Dynasty stretched from 1993 to 2022 and covering the changes would fill up pages. Nealis could remain true to the original mission of the marathon and that required the capable staff to grow with him and to share the vision of Colonel Fowler and the U.S. Marine Corps. There was one event in 1983 and it has grown to 12 primary events.

The Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps which Colonel Fowler served under was General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., the 26th Commandant. Major Nealis was serving under General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., the 30th Commandant.

There have been thirteen Commandants since the start of the marathon and Nealis has served under nine. Nealis retired from the Marine Corps in 1995 and transitioned to the first civilian Race Director for the marathon.

Nealis now retires with the race-event records:

Open Records

Jeff Scuffins 2:14:01, 12th MCM 1987
Olga Markova 2:37:00, 15th MCM 1990

Masters 1990

Bill Hall 2:24:36, 6th MCM 1981
Jaymee Marty 2:50:15, 34th MCM  2009

Wheelchair (Push-Rim)

Ken Carnes 1:40:22, 15th MCM  1990
Gina Utegg 2:04:02, 42nd MCM 2017

I have had the honor of serving as the Historian on the Ad hoc Committee since 1989. During the Nealis tenure, my book was published (Marine Corps Marathon: A Running Tradition), and in 2011 I was inducted into the Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame. Since 1983, I have completed 38 MCMs through 2022. In 2014, I completed my 100th marathon and Nealis was there to greet me as I crossed the line.

Rick’s last official duty was at the 2022 marathon.

My closing words: Rick Nealis, Semper Fidelis and Bravo Zulu!

Rick Nealis with George Banker (Photo by Bernadette Banker)
Alexander Hetherington, the new MCM race director, with George Banker (Photo by Bernadette Banker)

Categories: Features

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