Heart of Gold
Former Pompton Plains resident bequests $2.2 million to Chilton
July 30, 2015, Pompton Plains, NJ - The late Sonia Neill embraced life with a spirit of adventure – and a heart of gold. She and her husband, Harold, trekked across the United States in a camper, explored the tropical beaches of Tahiti, and toured their way through Europe. Yet, according to her loved ones, the place that Sonia treasured most was her “country” home in Pompton Plains, where she resided for 30 years. As it turns out, she traveled the world but never lost sight of her own community and her community hospital.
According to her wishes, Chilton Medical Center received a $2.2 million bequest to benefit enhancements for the Chilton Collins Pavilion, which houses the medical center’s Cancer Center and Breast Center. The gift, both extraordinary and unexpected, was donated quietly but speaks volumes about this thoughtful, compassionate visionary who valued the importance of community health care.
As the only daughter of German immigrants, Sonia spent much of her childhood in Guttenberg, New Jersey, where her parents owned and operated an embroidery factory. Perhaps it was those roots that instilled her strong values and commitment to family. For it was there, in a cozy, neighborhood cafe, that Sonia established a lifetime friendship with the proprietor and her youngest son, Brian Montmore. Sonia and her husband did not have children of their own, but shared their love with Brian, whom they treated as an “adopted son.”
In the early 1960’s, Sonia and Harold Neill moved to Pompton Plains, where they bought a charming little house with a white picket fence. They lived modestly, but generously – welcoming Brian to visit often and spend summers in their lakeside community. Brian fondly recalls boating along the Pequannock, flying kites attached to fishing poles, and shopping around town with “Aunt Sonny.”
Early on, Brian recognized Sonia’s charitable nature through her desire to help others, whether she was driving an elderly neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or finding a home for a stray pet.
“Aunt Sonny was extremely kind,” he asserted. “She cared about people, especially children, and also loved animals. She believed in volunteering and giving back to the community.”
Over the years, Sonia also developed a strong connection to Chilton Medical Center.
According to Brian, it was her hospital of choice when she needed surgery, emergency care or other health services.
Somewhere along the way, Chilton secured a special place in Sonia’s heart. Even after she and Harold retired to Florida, Sonia asked about her community hospital, and her house by the lake.
“She liked to hear all the hospital news and was excited to learn that my grandsons were born there,” noted Brian. “She probably spent her happiest days in Pompton Plains.”
In 2013, Sonia Neill passed away. It wasn’t until then that Chilton Medical Center learned of her bequest to the hospital’s Collins Pavilion – and the magnitude of her philanthropy. Most of Sonia’s estate was left to her favorite charities.
Unfortunately, the Chilton Medical Center Foundation did not have the opportunity to thank Sonia personally for her incredible gift. However, as a gesture of gratitude, the Foundation invited her dear friends and loved ones – the Montmore family – to the hospital in July for a celebratory recognition of Sonia’s benevolence.
“Chilton Medical Center Foundation is deeply grateful to Sonia Neill for considering the hospital in her estate planning and recognizing Chilton’s vital role in the community,” noted Joan Beloff, Chief Development Officer. “Her foresight and selfless generosity will support many programs and services that benefit patients in our Cancer Center and Breast Center, and will impact the health of area residents for generations to come.”