Jul 25, 2022 5:18 PM

Adding Color to a Gray World

Posted Jul 25, 2022 5:18 PM
Jim O'Neill has led the effort to help those in need spruce up their homes. (William Smith/The Burlington Beacon)
Jim O'Neill has led the effort to help those in need spruce up their homes. (William Smith/The Burlington Beacon)

Beacon Staff

Jim O’Neill has been the face of the annual Burlington/West Burlington Paint-A-Thon since its inception.

The former senior vice president of marketing for Two Rivers Bank and Trust is now retired and organizing his last paint-a-thon as a contract employee for the bank. He credits volunteers and fellow long-time co-workers like Renee Zaiser. They return the favor. 

“Jim has been the driving force behind the paint-a-thon,” said Matt Shinn, former president of Two Rivers Bank and Trust and current director at City Hope Foundation. 

“Jim is one of the most conscientious guys I know. Once he finds what works, he sticks with it. The paint-a-thon has become a well-oiled machine.”

O’Neill is handing the reigns over to Aaron Baltisberger, senior vice president of operations for Two Rivers Bank and Trust.

“Aaron is the perfect choice for the paint-a-thon coordinator. He has been with the bank for 15 years and knows as much as anybody,” O’Neill said. 

Five hundred and thirty homes have been spruced up with 8,500 gallons of paint since the event began in 1993.

“The purpose of the paint-a-thon is to paint the homes of people who can’t afford it, or can’t physically do it,” O’Neill said. 

“We have a great partnership with Community Action and Diamond Vogel, but most of all, we couldn’t do it without the volunteers. If we didn’t have the volunteers, we wouldn’t have a paint-a-thon. We have some original teams and volunteers from the beginning.”

O’Neill remembers the first paint-a-thon. A customer brought in a newspaper article about a similar event organized by a bank in Sioux City. 

He was put in charge of researching the possibility of doing one in Burlington. He formed a coalition with Randy Hackmeister from Diamond Vogel Paint Co., the late Sharon Ford, and Tom Richert from Community Action of Southeast Iowa.

“Our goal that first year was to paint 10 houses with 200 people, and we did it. The next year, it grew, and we were up to 400 or 500 people, and we did 15 houses that year,” O’Neill said.

The number of houses painted has remained consistent due to O’Neill and Zaiser’s close relationships with team leaders.

This is the 29th year of painting, but the 30th anniversary of the first event. The paint-a-thon had to be canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

O’Neill never imagined the paint-a-thon would last so long, and he is happy to see it carry on without him.

“We thought we would do the project for five to six years and then probably have to find another project,” he said. 

“We had a hailstorm in May of 2003, and part of South Hill got new roofs. In September, we were able to paint five houses up in South Hill. So those people got a new roof in May and a new paint job in September.”

A history of helping

O’Neill moved to Burlington in 1976 and started working at Hawk-Eye Bank and Trust in 1982, working his way up to senior manager of marketing. Eleven years later, he began the paint-a-thon. 

He is involved with other organizations that help people, including the Kiwanis Club and United Way (where he was past president and is still active). 

He served on the board and is a past president of Young House, served on the Chamber of Commerce board, and was on the Iowa Bankers Marketing Committee. He also coached American Little League in his earlier years.

An Albia native, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1970 and spent 20 months in the service. He left the Army and started working at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He worked there for 10 years as a marketing representative.

 O'Neill has three children — Kelli and Kacee, and a son Kevin, who has passed away. He also has eight grandchildren and one great-grandson to dote on. That is how he has been spending his retirement.

“I’ve met a lot of great people through the paint-a-thon, and it has been very rewarding,” he said.

Jim and his wife Julie live in Burlington.

The houses will be painted the week of Labor Day, starting Sept. 5, and the painting marathon will end with a picnic on Sept. 10.