Patrick H. O'Neill

(1915 - 2018)

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Patrick H. O'Neill

Introduction and Family Roots

Patrick H. O'Neill is of Irish decent. Patrick O'Neill's paternal grandfather, William A. O'Neill, immigrated to the United States in 1871 when he was 16, and initially worked on railroad construction projects. While living near Fargo, North Dakota, he married, became a farmer, and raised ten children. Patrick's father, Harry I. O'Neill, was born in Fargo in 1885. At the time of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush, Patrick's grandfather, William, traveled north and rushed over Chilkoot Pass to the gold fields near Dawson. He didn't get rich mining gold at Dawson, but instead helped build the White Pass and Yukon (WP&Y) Railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse. After the railroad was completed, he he returned stateside, but moved his family from North Dakota to Seattle.

Patrick's maternal grandfather, Philip J. Leahy, who was also of Irish decent, was born in Pennsylvania. He worked his way west employed with the Central Railroad.Patrick's mother, Florence Anne Leahy, was born in Beardstown, Illinois in 1883. The family ended up eventually moving to Seattle, where Patrick's father Harry lived. Harry and Florence were married in Seattle in 1904. Grandpa William O'Neill had acquired a lot in Cordova during the construction of the CR&NW Railroad. Patrick's parents, Harry and Florence, moved to Cordova in 1908 and eventually built a large house on the lot that Grandpa William O'Neill had purchased. They continued to build a large family.

Cordova Years

Patrick was the seventh of twelve children. He was younger than his brother Mike, who was the sixth in the family. When Mike was born, Patrick's parents originally named him Michael-Patrick but then his father Harry said, "It's a shame to waste two good names on one kid. Let's call this one Michael and the next one Patrick."

the O'Neill kids in stairstep lineup

Ten of the O'Neill children in Cordova, Alaska circa 1921, with Patrick identified.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

"Several Jewish and Irish families, one black family and one or more Greek, Italian, Yugoslavian, and Russian families, as well as a large Native American Eyak community were all part of the greater. The Episcopal Church had the library (the Red Dragon). The Presbyterians had the gymnasium. The Catholics were in control of the social hall. The Masons had a great dance floor. There was practically no racial prejudice. It was quite a shock for me to find out years later that racial prejudice was deeply ingrained in some communities of the 48 States and countries where I worked and traveled."

Patrick's father Harry worked for the retailer Sam Blum out of a tent store in Cordova. Later, Harry and Sam formed Blum and O'Neill and when Sam died, it became the O'Neill Company Inc. The store eventually had three separate departments: groceries, hardware, and clothing. All of the O'Neill children worked in the O'Neill store, and would bring in coal, stoke the furnace, haul out the ashes, scrub floors, wash dishes, iron clothes, and help cook for the large family. Patrick would also shovel snow off of sidewalks around town.

The children of the O'Neill family were, from oldest to youngest, Harry, William, Alice, Philip, Edward, Mike, Patrick, Florence (Rusty), Francis, Margaret, Teresa, and Rose Mary. They all played and worked well together and would remain close during their entire lives. The individualism of each sibling and their accomplishments would reinforce all of the others during life.

Patrick was a prolific letter writer throughout his life, largely due to his mother's insistence that he keep up with her during his many travels and adventures. Patrick always wrote to his mother on Sunday and he missed very few of them during his nearly 30 years of corresponding with her before her death in 1959. He corresponded by letter frequently with many others.

O'Neill's home town of Cordova was, like many in the resource-rich west, composed of people from all over the globe and of many nationalities. As he relates in his book, From Snowshoes to Wingtips: As a member of a devout Catholic family, Patrick served as an altar boy during the celebration of Mass at the local church. Owning to the large family size, the O'Neill home was among the largest (if not the largest) in Cordova. Growing up as a young boy in Cordova included visiting workers in railroad construction camps and bootleggers (during Prohibition), fishing, hiking, and avoiding large bears. Once Patrick was attacked while delivering newspapers by a vicious dog, and had to be hospitalized. Patrick was eight years old when President Warren G. Harding visited Cordova during 1923 for a day. The O'Neill family all lined up as the local chamber of commerce chair said: "Mr. President, here are Harry and Florence O'Neill with their 12 children". President Harding shook hands with all in the O'Neill family as they walked past.

O'Neill Family Store in Cordova

The O'Neill family store in Cordova, Alaska, circa 1920s.
Photo from family files

In 1932, at the age of 16, Patrick finished high school and wanted to go to college. Although gold mining was doing well in the Territory, such was not the case for the copper mines in the Wrangell Mountains and on LaTouche Island, which had shut down due to low copper prices caused by the Great Depression. The CR&NW Railroad was suspended due to lack of freight and ore concentrate deliveries (it resumed operations in 1935 until final closure in 1938). Cordova was beginning to experience a profound economic downturn.

Patrick's father, Harry, suggested that he write to Charles Bunnell in Fairbanks, the President of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines about both educational and part time employment opportunities at the school. Bunnell wrote back and said that he could get Patrick a job as a janitor at the new school, in exchange for room and board. And if he could get summer employment in the gold mining industry, then he could pay for tuition and could enroll in the college. Patrick managed to make $600 as a laborer during the mining season that summer, and as he was preparing to travel north to Fairbanks for school, his father told him that he was about to lose the family business. The economic downturn in Cordova was beginning to reverberate throughout the business community. Patrick gave his father the $600 he had made at the gold mine, which temporarily helped the family business, but his schooling in Fairbanks was delayed.

Patrick managed to stay busy at odd jobs in Cordova during the winter of 1932-33. One day, he walked out to Eyak Lake, where the well-known bush pilot Harold Gillam had a hangar. Gillam was working on a plane and Patrick pitched in and helped. By the end of the day, Gillam hired Patrick at a rate of $30/month to help with his business. Gillam had three airplanes to maintain. Patrick was involved in many aspects of the operation, including meeting the aircraft when they landed; draining engine oil, covering up the engines, and heating the engines. Patrick became a 'go-to' guy. Sometimes, Patrick would fly with Gillam and drop out bundles to remote mining camps as Gillam flew. Patricks' experience working with Gillam would have a positive influence on him later in life.

University of Alaska Years

Patrick O'Neill enrolled at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in the fall of 1933. This institution became the University of Alaska in 1935. Following the original plan of the previous year, Judge Bunnell gave him a janitorial position at the college and money made as an employee of gold mines was enough to take care of tuition and other expenses. Patrick served as athletic manager for several teams that the college could assemble, especially hockey and basketball. Because Fairbanks was not especially well suited for downhill skiing, Patrick became quite proficient at cross country skiing, and even won a few races while pursuing his academic career.

One memorable trip taken as athletic manager of the institution's hockey team morphed into a trip stateside. During the spring of 1936, in the euphoria of the university's surprising defeat of a hockey team from Dawson, Yukon, a decision was made to assemble a team from both Dawson and Fairbanks and play hockey teams from selected cities in the United States and Canada. After travel funds were raised, mainly from private sources, the team headed south. The hockey team actually managed to beat several teams in the United States, including tying a series in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but was usually soundly defeated by Canadian teams. The saga of the team's return to Alaska is told in Patrick's book, From Snowshoes to Wingtips, which involved a loosely contrived and unfunded cross country automobile trip from the Midwest to California; then north to Seattle; and finally finding steerage aboard an Alaska Steamship Company vessel back to Seward. The debt racked up from this trip would plague Patrick for several years. Through his uncles, Fred and Wilson Leahy, Patrick and George Karabeinikoff visited Paramount studios while in Los Angeles and met Hollywood actors Spencer Tracy, George Raft, Bing Crosby, and Edward G. Robinson.

Writer's note-this trip was described in the AMHF Inductee Glen Franklin summary (Volume 14, #1)

Patrick O'Neill would receive three degrees from the University of Alaska, and win several prestigious awards. In 1941 he earned a four year bachelor of science in mining engineering and a five year bachelor of mining engineering. Concerning the latter, he was one of the first five year program graduates from the University. In 1953, Patrick earned his engineering of mines degree from the University of Alaska School of Mines. He was named the Distinguished Alumni in 1971 by the University of Alaska Alumni Association. He would also receive an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the institution in 1976. Finally Patrick received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the UAF School of Mineral Industry in 1982.

Besides Patrick, the older brother Bill and younger brother Francis went to school at the University of Alaska. Bill got his degree in mining geology at the former college in 1934. Francis obtained a degree in mining engineering in 1942. It was Bill for whom the O'Neill Building was named on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks campus in 1975.

War Years

In 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps started the Civilian Pilot Training Program at the University of Alaska, and Patrick enrolled in the program. Benefiting from his experiences working with Harold Gillam years earlier, Patrick learned how to fly and obtained a pilot's license. In anticipation of entering WWII, the United States Selective Service instituted a draft, and O'Neill was drafted in early 1941. He obtained the position of Aviation Cadet in the U. S. Army Air Corps, contingent on passing a physical.

After Pearl Harbor, Patrick was first stationed at Kelley Field in San Antonio, Texas. He began training in a PT-19, a single engine, low-wing monoplane with two open cockpits—one for the instructor and one for the student. Later he was transferred to Randolph Field also near San Antonio for basic training. Long before the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Randolph field was known as the West Point of the Air. After reaching the rank of Cadet Captain, he was then transferred for advanced training to Brooks Field southwest of San Antonio. There Patrick flew an AT-6, an aircraft which has been used in Alaska for spotting forest fires.

O'Neill graduated from Brooks Field advanced training on August 5th, 1942. From there, he reported to Selfridge Field in Michigan to join a P-39 Air Cobra fighter group. This aircraft was the center piece of the USSR-USA Lend Lease Program; more than 5,000 Cobras (both P-39s and the more advanced P-63s) were flown from Fairbanks to Krasnoyarsk, Russia during the war. Patrick wanted to be assigned a combat role with the P-39 unit, but was rejected despite exceptional letters of reference from past instructors at the University of Alaska and from a mining company in Fairbanks, which included University President Charles Bunnell and Senior Engineer Jim Crawford respectively. While at Selfridge Field, a B-17 Group came through with movie actor Clark Gable on board. Patrick and the group held a party for the actor, who was on a war promotion effort. Patrick again asked for an overseas (combat role) transfer, but instead was assigned to a B-26 bomber group in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That aircraft had various technical problems that it made it potentially dangerous to fly.

O'Neill prospecting on the Goodpasture River

Patrick O'Neill on a prospecting trip in the Goodpaster region in 1935 fairly near the site of the future Pogo Gold Mine.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

<O'Neill with a B17 bomber

Patrick stands next to a B-17 Bomber which he flew for the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

Patrick and his unit worked out the bugs so that those bombers could be flown safely. He was later ordered to head up an arctic search and rescue group at Buckley Field, Colorado, where he spent several months as a flight instructor. With this assignment completed, he was transferred to Amarillo Texas, where he became an engineering test pilot for B-17 bombers. By war's end, he had accumulated several hundred hours flying the B-17s. Patrick was also very good at monitoring the repairs of the aircraft, and he frequently test-flew the big bombers after they emerged from a maintenance cycle. In 1944, O'Neill was ordered to attend Command and General Staff School in Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1945, O'Neill had an opportunity to join a B-29 bomber group, but paperwork and red tape would stall the assignment and ultimately caused this action to be terminated. As the war drew to a close, Patrick seriously considered making military service a career. He had accumulated excellent training experience as a test pilot in different types of military aircraft, and the Command and General Staff School had prepared him for such a career.

Although he would never serve in combat, the Air Corps saw O'Neill's mission as one to train many pilots and to test-fly aircraft to insure safer deployments for everyone. When the war ended, Captain O'Neill was honorably discharged and he returned to the mining field.

O'Neill's Alaskan Mining Career

Patrick O'Neill's first mining job was as a laborer with his older brother Bill at the Chititu placer gold mine, about 20 miles from McCarthy. He worked there for several years beginning in 1932, mostly before his university career.

In 1935, while attending classes at the University in Fairbanks, Dean Patty, Patrick's mining professor, asked him and a seasoned prospector, Carl Tweiten, to accompany investor George Pond to the Goodpaster River basin east of Fairbanks. The group polled up the Goodpaster River from the Tanana River for a number of days. The mosquitos were unbelievable. Gold was panned on several tributaries of the West Fork, Goodpaster River, and claims were staked. But when the BuhachTM ran out (a powder made of ground-up pyrethrin flowers and burned to kill mosquitos), the expedition ended. Patrick eventually transferred his claims to Carl Tweiten. After Tweiten suffered a mine injury several years later, he abandoned his mining career and left Alaska. The claims were also abandoned. In 1990, Carl Tweiten published a book that described his prospecting in the area (see bibliography). Tweiten's brother, Oscar, was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame (AMHF) in 2012. Prospecting undertaken by the O'Neill-Tweiten-Pond group occurred in the general area where the Pogo gold mine would be discovered in 1994 and placed into production in 2006. Today, the Pogo mine is one of Alaska's largest gold mines; the 3 millionth ounce of gold from Pogo was recently poured.

O'Neill's first job as a mine laborer was working for an FE Company exploration crew near Fox. Later, he would work for several seasons on placer gold exploration crews in southwest Alaska near McGrath and the Moore Creek placer mine, and later in several gold-bearing streams near Aniak.

Chatanika Dredge

Dredge #3 of the USSR&M gold dredge fleet in Fairbanks, known as the Chatanika Dredge, had many seasons of good gold recoveries and challenging engineering problems that had to be solved in order to mine the deeply buried paystreak. O'Neill was the superintendent of dredge operations for USSR&M from 1948 until his departure to South America in the 1950s.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

One work change for O'Neill was working at the McCarty underground hardrock gold mine northeast of Fairbanks near the divide between Fairbanks Creek and Cleary Creek. In 1939, KFAR came on the air, the first radio station in Interior Alaska. The first song Patrick heard on KFAR while working at the McCarty mine was Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow, something he never forgot.

In 1948, the United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company (USSR&M) promoted O'Neill to Dredge Superintendent of their dredges in the Fairbanks district. USSR&M operated a large fleet of dredges in the Fairbanks district from 1928-to-1965.

In 1948, six of their eight dredges were working after being moth-balled during the war due to the implementation of Federal Order L-208. At the age of 33, O'Neill was considered young for the job, but proved to be most capable. During the late 1940s, several of the big, floating stacker dredges, some weighing more than 2,000 tons, had exhausted their paystreaks and had to be moved to new ground. Dredge #6 was moved from Ester Creek to Gold Hill via a two mile long canal. Dredge #2 was moved from Goldstream Creek to Fairbanks Creek, a distance of more than ten miles. Dredge #5 was moved from Cleary Creek to Little Eldorado Creek—and then to Dome Creek. Each move required that dredges be disassembled to a degree and

pulled to new construction sites overland by tractors and cables during winter months. Patrick oversaw the dredge moves.

Before the war, it was not difficult to obtain a quality work force. But after the war, the company had to compete with Alaska military construction projects that offered fundamentally higher wages.

Patrick became very involved with the Pioneers of Alaska, an Alaska-wide organization with 'Igloos' all over the Territory. In 1947, Patrick joined Igloo #4, which represented many pioneers from the interior. You have to be an Alaskan for 30 years to join the Pioneers of Alaska; he was just 32 when he joined. Gold was discovered in the Fairbanks area in 1902 by AMHF inductee Felice Pedroni; a.k.a. Felix Pedro, an Italian immigrant. In 1952, the Pioneers of Alaska decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pedro's discovery. That year, Patrick was the President of Pioneers Igloo #4 and was the chairman of the project. The Italian government sent over a bust of Felix Pedro. A bronze plaque depicting an image of Felix Pedro was made in Seattle and was affixed on a granite boulder at the Pedro Monument on Pedro Creek, where the discovery of gold was made.

Miners who knew Felix Pedro pose with the Pedro Monument on Steese Highway

Dedication of Pedro Monument by gold miners and prospectors that actually knew Felix Pedro, circa 1952
Photo from O'Neill (2007)

The event, originally known as 'Discovery Days', became Golden Days, an annual celebration held in Fairbanks every year since. O'Neill gave the first address at the Pedro Monument and has returned several times for re-dedications.

In the fall of 1952, at the suggestion of AMHF inductee Dean Earl Beistline, Patrick O'Neill began a thesis project in order to receive an Engineer of Mines degree at the University. The thesis, which evaluated the status of the USSR&M dredging operations in the Fairbanks district, was finished in May, 1953. O'Neill was still dredge superintendent for the firm, which encouraged him to work up forecasts about future operations as part of the thesis. In his thesis, O'Neill wrote:

"The present outlook for gold dredging in Alaska is uncertain. This uncertainty is due to the exceedingly high cost of labor and materials and steadily increasing taxes, coupled with the fixed price of gold and restrictions governing regulations of gold sales in domestic and foreign markets. Many Alaskan dredges that operated prior to WWII cannot be operated profitably today and there are no new searches for new dredge properties . . . Never-the-less, dredges today mine cassiterite (ore of tin), platinum, monazite, scheelite (ore of tungsten), garnets, sapphires... and aggregates. Dredges are dependable producers of new wealth all over the world."

O'Neill concluded that placer gold reserves suitable for dredging in the Fairbanks area would be finished in just ten more years or by about 1963. It occurred to him that future job opportunities should be considered elsewhere.

As he walked down the main hallway of the University of Alaska School of Mines, Patrick noticed a letter on the bulletin board from the South American Gold and Platinum Company (SAGPC) in New York advertising for junior mining engineers for their dredge project in Colombia, South America. O'Neill asked Dean Beistline to add his name to a list of experienced dredge operators that might be interested in working for the firm. O'Neill soon received a telegram from SAGPC asking for additional information (a resume) and a request to come to New York for an interview. While considering the employment opportunity, Patrick discussed the matter with former mines professor and mentor Ernest Patty, who would become a University of Alaska President. Patty strongly urged O'Neill to accept a position if offered; which he did. The decision profoundly changed the life of the experienced Alaskan placer mining engineer. In later years, O'Neill credited both Beistline and Patty for encouraging him to pursue mining opportunities in Central and South America.

A Mining Career in Central and South America

At the time that O'Neill left the USSR&M Company in 1953, inflation and the fixed price of gold had made their Alaskan dredge fleet economically marginal. Gold was at $35/ounce and had stayed at that level since 1934. In contrast, placer mines in Colombia, except the ones where O'Neill would initially work, were doing quite well at $35/ounce gold. The Colombian peso was devaluating faster than inflationary mine costs were increasing. The Colombian subsidiary of the SAGPC was called Compania Minera Choco Pacifico, which was located in the Choco region of Colombia. It was hot and rainy there, in complete contrast to the cool, subarctic desert of the Fairbanks district.

The Choco region of Colombia had been mined for gold and platinum by the Spanish for several hundred years, and later by British and American interests. Some of the first platinum mined in the world came from this area. The mineralized sources for the platinum in the Choco region, known to geologists as 'zoned ultramafic complexes', are remarkably similar to those at Goodnews Bay, Alaska, where platinum and byproduct gold has been placer mined. Only the Ural Mountains of Russia has produced more placer platinum than the Choco basin.

Upon arriving at the work site, O'Neill was disturbed to find that working and housing conditions were primitive and completely inadequate for the 600 miners working in the main camp at Andagoya. Diseases like malaria were prevalent. Educational programs for the children of miners was required by Colombian law, but were not being provided. Patrick was hired as chief engineer with the understanding that within one year, he would have sufficient proficiency in the Spanish language to be able to take over management of the operation from the existing manager, who was in poor health and wanted to leave. After one year, O'Neill did become proficient in the Spanish language, and he did much to improve mine efficiencies, but much depended on improving the working and living conditions of the workers. After the first year, he threatened to quit if working conditions for the employees did not improve.

At the same time, the man controlling the stock of SAGPC, Sam Lewisohn, unexpectedly died. His widow wanted to sell out. The broker that placed the stock and several others wanted O'Neill to show them around the Andagoya mine site, which O'Neill did. While doing so, Patrick offered his frank advice about what should be done to make the operation successful. A proxy fight occurred in New York and new company decision makers asked Patrick to move to New York and assume the position of Vice President of Operations.

O'Neill, now based in New York, made regular trips to the Colombian mine operations. Modern appliances and new living structures were built. Social workers arrived and teachers taught workers how to make clothing. Educational programs were implemented for the children of mine workers. A new hospital with modern laboratory equipment was built and staffed with competent doctors and nurses. A recreational hall and movie theater were also provided. Almost overnight, work efficiencies and employee moral improved dramatically.

In the meantime, test work commenced on the dredges to improve gold and platinum recovery. Bucket line speeds were increased and prospect drilling tested new reserves. There were thousands of people mining gold and platinum in addition to the five dredges that were operating in the Choco region. The small miners used bateas (wooden gold pans) to recover the gold and platinum. It was thought by native people that platinum was 'unripe' gold and frequently discarded as worthless for many years. But when demand for platinum increased after WWI, tailings were re-mined for their platinum values. O'Neill's dredges sometimes dug up pre-Colombian gold fish hooks, nose rings, and old Spanish gold coins.

Columbian Dredge

Dredge #2 operated by the International Mining Corporation out of Andagoya Camp, Choco Basin, Colombia.
Photo of painting from O'Neill Family Collection

Another dredge in Columbia

Dredge #4, a 13 cubic foot unit operated by the Pato Consolidated Gold Dredging on the Nechi River near Bagre, Colombia.
Photo of painting from PO'Neill Family Collection.

Instead of bringing in foreign mining engineers for permanent positions, O'Neill used local Colombian talent wherever he could. He did bring in professional engineering consultants that he knew from time to time, when engineering problems needed to be solved. When O'Neill first stepped foot on the property, the mine manager at Andagoya, who was from Montana, refused to work directly with minorities, including the Governor of the region, who was of black African descent. O'Neill was appalled that such strong racism existed among his colleagues. By the time the dredge fleets were taken over by Colombian companies, a Colombian engineer was the general manager.

At the time that O'Neill arrived in South America, the SAGPC had two operations: 1) the five dredges that worked at the Andagoya camp; and 2) two dredges that worked at the Narino camp much further to the south. Not long after, the company name was changed to International Mining Corporation (IMC). O'Neill took over all responsibilities for IMC in South America, which mined the properties for about 25 years. A few years after O'Neill took over operations, a DC-3 carrying Vince White, the company dredge superintendent, crashed into the mountains of Colombia killing all on board. Vince was an experienced dredger from the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation in Yukon Territory, Canada, and his expertise was sorely missed by O'Neill. A shipment of gold and platinum was on board the aircraft. The gold bars disappeared but the raw placer platinum, which required special refining processes prior to sale, eventually turned up.

Under O'Neill's leadership, the International Mining Corporation (IMC) would expand. Their first acquisition was the Pato Consolidated Gold Corporation, which operated seven dredges on the Nechi River in Colombia. These dredges were newer units than those at Andagoya and Narino. IMC would later acquire stock in Placer Development, which had operated a large fleet of gold dredges at Bulolo in New Guinea both before and after WWII. Japanese air forces sank the dredge fleet during WWII, but the dredges were refloated and operated after the war. O'Neill would assume the chair of Pato Consolidated Gold Corporation. When the Colombian mine operations were sold to a Colombian Company, IMC was acquired by Pacific Holding in 1977. Patrick O'Neill would also be involved with other firms, including Moly Corp and Zemex Corporation during his years in the mining business.

O'Neill and bride pose at wedding

Patrick and Sandra O'Neill, circa 1967
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

In June, 1967, Patrick met Sandra Elaine Dorris on a flight from Mexico to New York. Sandra was a stewardess working for Eastern Airlines. Patrick was on his way from one of his many business meetings in Mexico. The couple hit itoff famously on the dance floors of the Waldorf Astoria in New York and elsewhere. Patrick and Sandra were married on December 5th, 1967 and had two children, Erin Dorris in 1969 and Kevin Reddy in 1972. Sandra, who could speak fluent Spanish at a high professional level, would frequently provide invaluable communication skills for Patrick during his complicated and sensitive mining negotiations with mining executives and government officials. Her knowledge of the social nuances in the Hispanic culture of Central and South America was also invaluable.

O'Neill learned about the potential to dredge gold in Bolivia. SAGPC managed to acquire from the Bolivian government several prospective properties, and eventually, a subsidiary was created, South American Placers, with Patrick as President, to develop the Bolivian placer deposits. A dredge originally deployed in New Guinea before WWII was barged to South America and trucked to Caranavi, where it was constructed. The dredge was reassembled in six months and the President of Bolivia, Victor Paz Estenssoro, christened the operation. The dredge did not perform at the designed level, but was profitable.

IMC examined and developed mining properties in Peru and Mexico, and acquired shares in the Fresnillo Company in Mexico, which produced both base and precious metals. After IMC was acquired by Pacific Holdings in 1977, the Fresnillo Company was merged with Rosario Resources, and O'Neill became the Executive Vice President. Rosario operated mining properties in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. O'Neill spent 24 years on the board of the Fresnillo Company, and worked with many excellent engineers and executives during that time. He would finally retire from the mining business at the end of his tenure on the Rosario board in the 1990s.

Other Interests

Patrick had many interests in addition to the mining field. During WWII, American and Canadian military personnel and academia became concerned about the strategic and economic importance of arctic regions. In 1944, representatives from the United States and Canada met in New York and agreed to establish a private, binational organization to study the arctic regions. Thus the Arctic Institute of North America was formed, with headquarters in Montreal and Washington D.C. Funding was provided by both Canadian and U.S. government entities as well as from private foundations and corporations. Eventually liaisons were established with Greenland (Denmark), the Scandinavian countries and the USSR—now Russia. The journal Arctic was launched in 1948. O'Neill became a member in 1958 and was elected to the Board of Governors two years later. He served as chairman of the board for two terms in the 1970s. He remains a fellow of the organization.

O'Neill with group in mexico

Patrick O'Neill second from left in back at Fresnillo hardrock mining operation in Mexico, undated.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

O'Neill family in Antarctica

The O'Neill Family, from left to right, Sandra, Kevin, Erin, and Patrick in Antarctica circa 1988.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

The Explorers Club was founded in 1904 as a multidisciplinary society dedicated to field research and scientific exploration. Patrick joined the club in 1957, and has been very active over the years. He had the opportunity to meet with Vilhjalmur Stefanasson, Sir Hubert Wilkins, Admiral Bird, and other renowned arctic explorers. Patrick's wife Sandra, attended many meetings of the Explorers Club. Patrick remains one of the longest-running members of the Explorers Club.

For several decades, Patrick raised funds to fight Diabetes. Both of his children are diabetic. In 1970, he was asked to join the Development Committee of the Joslin Diabetes Center (JDC) in Boston, Massachusetts. He remained on that committee for 25 years, 15 as Chairman of the Board. During that time, the budget for the JDC grew from $22-to-$88 million and the patients served grew from 36,000 to over 100,000. In 1987, the JDC was named the Diabetes and Endocrinology Center of the National Institute of Health, one of only a few active in the U.S. Patrick retired from the JDC Board in 1995, but remains informed about their current programs.

Other organizations in which Patrick has played an active role include the American Geographical Society for 46 years, the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) for 80 years, and the Ireland-United States Council for Commerce and Industry for 52 years.

Patrick H. O'Neill has had a remarkably successful international mining career. Yet he embodies the virtues of a pioneer Alaskan: hard work, honesty, and patience. He has a quick and charming wit and is capable of entertaining guests and colleagues with tales of his incredibly interesting life. Although he doesn't always agree with others, he is tolerant and respectful of other points of view.

And he never forgot his roots. Patrick and Sandra have made many trips to Alaska over the years since relocating to the east coast. He was on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks campus in 1988 along with his friends and colleagues Earl Beistline and Glen Franklin, who presented the life-sized statue of Charles Bunnell, the first President of the University of Alaska on the central campus green. Patrick gave the dedication speech for this event.

When recently asked what his greatest achievement in life was, Patrick responded:

"It's the education that I received at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines—and later the University of Alaska. It is absolutely the best thing I could have done in my life."

On March 4th, 2016, the Alaska Legislature issued a proclamation honoring Patrick H. O'Neill for his achievements in the mining field, his contributions to the University of Alaska, his love for Alaska as a whole, and for his induction into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation.

The Board members of the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation are honored to have Patrick H. O'Neill inducted into the organization.

On February 15th 2018, Patrick O'Neill passed away at the age of 102 at his home in New Canaan, Connecticut.

2'Neill with the Bunnell statue on UAF campus

Patrick O'Neill, Earl Beistline, and Glen Franklin (all AMHF inductees) dedicating a bronze of Charles Bunnell, the first President of the University of Alaska, circa 1988.
Photo from O'Neill Family Collection

Written By Tom Bundtzen, March 24th, 2016


Boswell, J.C., 1979, History of Alaskan Operations of United States Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company: Mineral Industry Research Laboratory, 123 pages.

Chenault, Mike, and 57 others, 2016, Honoring Dr. Patrick H. O'Neill at 2016 Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Induction: Proclamation Issued by Alaska Legislature, issued March 4th, 2016, one sheet

Noyes, L.M., 2001, Rock Poker to Pay Dirt: The History of Alaska's School of Mines and Its Successors: University of Alaska Foundation and University of Alaska Press, 712 pages.

O'Neill, Patrick H., 1953, Gold Dredging: University of Alaska Engineer of Mines thesis, 92 pages.

O'Neill, Patrick H., 2007, From Snowshoes to Wingtips, The Life of Patrick O'Neill: University of Alaska Foundation, and University of Alaska Press, 197 pages.

Ringstad, Ann, 2013, UAF Grad Inducted into National Mining Hall of Fame: UAF College of Engineering and Mines, September 14th, 2013 Press Release, 2 pages

Tweiten, Carl O., 1990, Alaska, Big Delta, and the Goodpaster River Region: Valley Press, Puyallup, Washington, 89 pages.

Miscellaneous archived files of AMHF Inductee Earl H. Beistline

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