By Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
One of Boyne City’s newest residents has traveled more than 8,500 miles over more than 43 years to get here.
Martin Neuhoff emigrated from South Africa to America in 1972, when he was 23 years old.
“I was raised in South Africa but I didn’t agree with the politics and apartheid at the time,” said Neuhoff from his new home in Boyne City. “My sister had requested I immigrate. She was my sponsor and so I arrived and never looked back.”
Neuhoff said his homeland is a beautiful country but that he always felt more at home in the USA.
“I became an American and I’m more American than I ever was South African,” Neuhoff said. “A lot of people talk about ‘the old country’ but I’ve only been back once, in 2006, when my older brother passed away. So, I always tell people I’m a misplaced American—I was born on the wrong continent.”
He added, “We can’t pick where we’re born but I’m more proud of being an American than of being a South African.”
Neuhoff said the biggest culture difference he noticed upon arriving in the USA was diversity among its many peoples.
“I couldn’t stop smiling because it was like I arrived in a country that was actually free, and people actually have the right to say what they think and they can actually live what they feel is the correct way of life,” he said. “People should never be judged by the color of skin or race or anything like that. As far as I’m concerned, they should be judged by their character and what they stand for.”
Neuhoff added, “If you want to sit and talk to someone of a different culture or a different color, you could do that. In South Africa, there was a morality act that you couldn’t talk to an African (black African). As a matter of fact, if you got caught talking to them other than just work-related, you could get put in jail. It was really backward.”
Neuhoff said it was nice coming to America because he no longer had to put on an act or avoid talking to people of different races and cultures.
“When I came to America, I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said.
Neuhoff’s parents, now deceased, and sister also moved to America for a better life.
“We are extremely fortunate,” said Neuhoff. “We have a way of life that people just drool over and do not understand.”
Neuhoff said it took him 18 months to complete the immigration and naturalization process in the United States.
“It’s a good process and I became, obviously, a naturalized citizen—it was one of the proudest days of my life,” he said.
When Neuhoff first arrived in America, he lived in Whitmore Lake, just north of Ann Arbor. He also stayed in the Ann Arbor area until 1998. Then, he moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., until this year.
Neuhoff’s wife actually began living in Boyne City three years ago while Martin continued working as the Indiana Tech University Athletic Director.
“We just love Michigan,” said Neuhoff. “We’ve been camping and coming up to this area forever.”
Neuhoff said he and his wife Chris had come to the area to spend their December wedding anniversary in Charlevoix for many years.
“One year, we came up and we said we want to live here,” he said. “Then, my daughter married her husband and they live in Boyne City … so, Boyne City became the place we wanted to be.”
Neuhoff’s son-in-law Terry McBee is a Boyne City native.
“We just love it. We love the four seasons. We’re not the people who pack up their bags and go south in winter,” said Neuhoff.
Neuhoff’s first job in America was with J.C. Penny, where he began as a trainee and ended up in second level management.
He had experience and some schooling back in Africa. But, when he came to the USA, he eventually attained his bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership.
Neuhoff and his wife also operated a travel agency in the 1980s.
Neuhoff began working with Indiana Tech in 1996 as the head men’s soccer coach, where he led his team until 2010.
Some of his accomplishments include taking his team to the nationals and finals in 2009. His team ended up being fourth in the nation academically with an average GPA of 3.4.
“That particular year, I ended up being coach of the year for the Tech coach of the year, regional coach of the year and Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) coach of the year,” said Neuhoff. “Something, too, that I’m very proud of is … in 2008, I got the award of Champions of Character Coach in our conference for soccer coach.”
He added, “That, to me, is huge because, after all, you can do other things and be successful but if you don’t have champions of character, it doesn’t mean much.”
In 2010, Neuhoff was named Interim Athletic Director at Indiana Tech.
Neuhoff said he oversaw a major change in athletic and academic excellence of the many teams under his purview during his time as athletic director.
“When I started in ‘96, we had five sports and I was hired to add the sixth, and we had 88 student athletes,” he said. “When I left Tech in May of 2015, we had approximately 764 student athletes and 25 sports.”
For his accomplishments, Neuhoff was named Athletic Director of the Year—a first for Indiana Tech.
“What was important to me was recognition that our university was doing things the right way,” he said. “It sounds corny but, if you don’t do things the right way, nothing is important. You’ve got to do things the right way.”
According to a June 18, Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference news story, Neuhoff instituted guiding principles known as “Warrior Pride” which were based on ethical conduct, integrity, accountability, leadership, sportsmanship and academic achievement as well as athletic accomplishments.
“To say Neuhoff changed the culture of the athletics department is an understatement,” says WHAC in the June 18 story. “During his four-plus years at the helm, Indiana Tech won seven national championships—six in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and one in the National Women’s Lacrosse League (NWLL)—and strengthened its academic achievements among student-athletics.”
Now officially retired, Neuhoff hopes to contribute some of his leadership and organizational skills to local educational, business promotional or other groups.
“At this point, I am more into academic development, where I can help kids accomplish their goals,” he said. “Very often—athletes especially—when they go to university, they think they’re an athlete but they forget they’re a student athlete. They forget that, after four years, that sport is done. So,
I’m really big about that academic side and how important it is to their future.”
The other thing Neuhoff would like to do now that he has retired in Northern Michigan is enjoy the outdoors by running, kayaking, rowing and, he said, “I want to take my grand-kids fishing.”
Neuhoff added, “Another big thing we just love is the animals and the nature—it’s just amazing. I keep telling my wife I need to pinch myself.”
Martin and his wife Chris have three children and 11 grandchildren.