Beloved York County vet, hero to Lipizzan horses and winemaker dies
Harold "Doc" Neibert treated Roxanne Smeltzer's Labrador retrievers for about 20 years — a relationship that started when he saved her 4-week-old puppy.
"I had been at my regular vet's office and held this puppy for two hours dying in my hands," said Smeltzer, former director of the Susquehanna Stray Animal Shelter in Lower Windsor Township.
While she was waiting on her veterinarian to arrive, she asked her friend, who was also Neibert's office manager, if Neibert could take a look.
He did, and he performed a tracheotomy, saving the puppy's life.
Since then, Neibert has treated 25 to 30 of Smeltzer's pets over two decades.
He told it like it was: Neibert, who ran a veterinary practice at the Yorkshire Animal Hospital in Springettsbury Township, died Dec. 30 at the age of 95, and he is remembered for being dedicated and to the point.
"He explained to you what was needed, he didn't sugarcoat," Smeltzer said. "Whatever he said went. I didn't question (it)."
“He was pretty matter-of-fact,” his daughter, Cynthia Neibert, agreed — a quality both she and Smeltzer admired.
"I loved that man," Smeltzer said. "He was a tremendous vet."
Growing up: One of 10 children who grew up on a dairy farm in Waynesboro, Franklin County, Harold Neibert knew he wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age.
When he was in high school, he would go out on calls with the local vet who came to treat the cows, his daughter said.
He began studying as a pre-veterinary student at Penn State until he was drafted into the Army in 1944.
But even then, he got to carry his passion for animals to the war zone.
He and fellow soldier John Phillips, a student in agricultural school, were chosen for their experience with animals to help the U.S. forces led by Gen. George Patton rescue endangered Lipizzan horses at the end of World War II, his daughter said.
"About 350 (captured) horses were herded in small groups, with American vehicles positioned before and after them and with a band of Polish, Czech and Cossack horsemen as outriders, along with a smattering of Americans — making the name of the mission, Operation Cowboy, especially apt," according to an article on HistoryNet.com.
The horses, including more than 200 Lipizzans, were taken about 130 miles from Czechoslovakia to Mannsbach, Germany, before they were carried in captured German vehicles the rest of the way to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, the article states.
Yorkshire Animal Hospital: When Neibert returned from war, he attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and eventually opened his practice at Yorkshire Animal Hospital in 1952 — and he had been there ever since.
He married his wife, Shirley, in 1976 and raised daughter Cynthia in the house next door to the practice.
A hard worker, Harold Neibert was dedicated to his practice, even after work hours for emergencies.
“There were no emergency clinics then,” Cynthia Neibert said. “He would meet them at the door in his pajamas.”
She recalls what it was like to grow up next to an animal hospital. Her father would go out on farm calls, and she would talk to him on their two-way radio.
“Back then you didn’t have cellphones,” she said. “At home I would get on the radio and say, ‘Where are you right now?’ and ask him to pick up a frosty freeze on the way home."
She’d also sometimes accompany him on farm calls and eventually she studied to become a vet herself along with many other high school kids who worked at the practice over the summers. Cynthia Neibert is now practicing at Yorkshire Animal Hospital.
He influenced a lot of people, she said.
Fruits of labor: When Harold Neibert wasn't at the practice, he was exploring his other passion: winemaking.
He bought a property in eastern York County for a vineyard, and eventually his amateur winemaking became more than a hobby. He opened Fox Ridge Winery in Springettsbury Township, which has since closed, his daughter said.
“He enjoyed getting outside, and he would go up pretty much every afternoon when it was time to prune grapes,” Cynthia Neibert said.
"He could often be seen smoking his pipe and tending to his plants," his obituary reads.
He also liked to grow turnips, his daughter said, and clients of his practice would come in when “they knew it was turnip time.”
“That was the farm boy in him,” she said.
Tomorrow's another day: Though Harold Neibert's straightforward style might not have always been for everyone, it was clear he loved what he did.
"I think he truly enjoyed working with the animals," Smeltzer said.
Cynthia Neibert has an idea of why her father might have lived so long. It was thanks to some advice from his father.
“He’d say to him, ‘Harold, go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s another day.’” she said.
And he did. He didn’t stress over things much because he knew worrying wasn’t going to change them. Tomorrow was always another day.
Friends and family may gather for a time of reflection to celebrate Harold Neibert's life, 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Yorkshire Animal Hospital, 3434 E. Market St. Memorial contributions can be made to the SPCA of York County or a pet charity.