Emotional ceremony honors victims’ advocate Phyllis Neff

LIMA — Accolades and tears flowed in equal measure Friday during a ceremony honoring the life’s work of a woman who will not soon be forgotten in Lima and Allen County.

Phyllis Neff, who for more than 30 years gave of her large heart and caring spirit to victims of crime, was posthumously honored during a ceremony held outside the Crime Victim Services building in downtown Lima. A memorial garden there was re-dedicated as the Phyllis Neff Homicide Victim Memorial Garden in her honor.

Neff retired as a crime victim advocate in 2020 and died Dec. 2, 2021, at the age of 70. As evidenced by the stirring remarks Friday from local leaders, co-workers and victims of crime themselves, Neff left an indelible imprint.

David Voth, the retiring director of the Allen-Putnam County CVS office, hired Neff in 1988. He called Friday’s event “a happy time … and a sad time. For many people she was the their light. She was my light for 32 years.”

Neff joined the Crime Victim Services office at a time when victims of crime had little or no legal standing and virtually no one upon whom they could rely to guide them through the criminal justice and judicial systems.

In 1996 the Ohio legislature added a victims’ right section to the Ohio Revised Code and in 2017 a voter referendum approved a constitutional amendment cementing those new laws. Neff dedicated her career giving a greater voice to a segment of the community that for years had fallen through the cracks.

Lima Mayor Sharetta Smith read a proclamation recognizing those efforts, which she said exemplified “the Bible’s Good Samaritan theory.” Smith called Neff a “beacon of light and a solid rock who helped thousands of victims of crime” during her lengthy career. The proclamation officially re-dedicated the memorial garden located just outside the CVS office as the Phyllis Neff Homicide Victim Memorial Garden.

Lima resident Linda Scott spoke of the personal strength she gained from Neff after her husband was murdered.

“When my husband was brutally taken away from me, Miss Phyllis was very kind to me. She had a sweet and gentle spirit and I am very grateful for her. I’m sure she’s in a happy, great place today.”

Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Terri Kohlrieser said Neff’s passing “leaves some huge shoes to fill.”

“I know the blood, sweat and tears she put into her job daily,” the judge said. “Yet she was never anything but Phyllis … a good human being to the core. Allen County has lost a huge piece of its criminal justice system.”

Neff’s son, Ben, said the dedication of the memory garden in his mother’s name means that “the woman who made sure everyone was remembered will now never be forgotten.”

In an interview with The Lima News in April of 2020, Neff said her greatest satisfaction had come simply in knowing that victims’ voices are now being heard.

“Victims think of the criminal justice system as a TV show, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Neff said. “I just try to keep them in the loop and help them get some closure. It takes its toll on me sometimes; I feel their pain. I couldn’t have done this without my Christian faith.”

A bench bearing Neff’s name, donated by local resident Bob Johns, has been placed in the memory garden.

“She was a great person,” Johns said.