Johnstown Independent

Career paths take graduating Neff siblings west to Rocky Mountains

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PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT LITUCHY/WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
Maddi Neff and her brother, Scott Neff, graduated from Johnstown-Monroe High School and from West Virginia University.
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It wasn't uncommon for Maddi Neff to jump in the car and head for Morgantown, W.Va., on the weekends.

Growing up, she and her older brother, Steve Neff, had developed a close relationship.

"I visited him a lot, and every time I went down there, I just loved it," she said. "At the time, I wasn't all that happy at the private school I was attending and didn't really know what I wanted to do."

The future is often unpredictable. A year later, the Johnstown siblings were both enrolled at West Virginia University, where they joined about 4,300 other graduates receiving their degrees May 9-11.

Their postcollege journey will continue down the same path as they go west to the Rocky Mountains.

Steve Neff, 24, who earned his master's degree in agriculture, natural resources and design, will head to Montana to fight wildfires with the U.S. Forest Service.

Maddi Neff, 22, will have a bachelor's degree in agribusiness management and rural development when she leaves for Colorado to manage a western apparel store and work at horse ranches.

"I was taught to go out and chase your dreams and write your own book," Steve Neff said. "I've passed up some good jobs. I know friends who are making good money with the (natural) gas companies. I could do that, but I feel like I'd be giving up a dream."

The 2008 Johnstown-Monroe High School graduate has spent the past three summers working for the forest service based out of Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. He will begin his career in Missoula, Mont.

During his sophomore year, Neff met a friend at a barbecue who described his experiences in fighting wildfires. Neff was intrigued by the emergency response work.

At the time, he was pursuing his bachelor's degree in criminology, with the goal of becoming a police officer, federal agent or park ranger.

"Moving out to Montana is going to be my start," he said. "I'll be working about an hour away in a small tourist town of about 50 people. There's no cell service or Internet. After work, I usually grab my fly rod and find a deep pocket on the Lochsa River."

Fort Collins, Colo., will be Maddi Neff's destination.

The 2010 Johnstown-Monroe graduate transferred to West Virginia as a fashion major in 2011, but her love of horses led her to add agribusiness to her studies.

She became enchanted with the West as an undergraduate, having spent summers working at horse ranches, including one in Rocky Mountain National Park.

"I remember thinking this is my backyard," she said. "I felt like I was living in a painting. It's unreal. I never thought I'd be roping cattle in the middle of the Rocky Mountains."

As the manager of a western apparel shop, Neff will be able to put her fashion sense to use. Work on the ranch will be limited to volunteer time.

She and her boyfriend plan to move into their newly built cabin in July. But it's just the beginning.

"My dad has encouraged us to go out and see the world and enjoy it now," she said. "My mom is equally supportive, but she always says go do it and be sure to come back."

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