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Businessman’s legacy is suicide prevention foundation

Bill Neumeier battled depression and bipolar disorder before his death in Nov. 2018

Published: January 30, 2024   
Judi Liggett
Bill Neumeier is seen here shortly before his death Nov. 19, 2018. His family started the Bill Neumeier Suicide Awareness Foundation in Fort Smith.

The surviving family of Bill Neumeier, who died Nov. 19, 2018, has established a foundation for suicide awareness in his name.

Neumeier was the oldest of three children of Bill Sr. and the late Jody Neumeier, owners of Neumeier’s Nursery. 

“Billy graduated from St. Boniface School, Subiaco Academy and College of the Ozarks,” his sister Lisa Neumeier Hearn said. “We all worked in the nursery growing up, but Billy loved and was passionate about downtown Fort Smith.”

While Hearn and her brother Joseph continued in the family business as adults, Neumeier became a local restaurateur and concert promoter, opening Neumeier’s Rib Room and Papa's Pub and Pizzeria. 

“Many famous musicians got their start playing in the Rib Room,” Hearn said. “Billy had a real ear for recognizing talent. He liked to shine the spotlight on others while staying in the background himself. While the bands were performing, Billy would usually be out in the alley carrying ice.”

Not content with limiting musical venues to his restaurant, Neumeier was one of the founders of the Riverfront Blues and Peacemakers Festivals. He was known for his kindness to people in need. 

“When Billy first moved downtown, he’d help the homeless, take people to rehab and help people find jobs,” said Hearn, a St. Boniface parishioner.

Neumeier struggled with bipolar disorder throughout his life, handling his symptoms with medication and a strong support system of family and friends. 

“When Billy got low, he’d come see Mom and Dad or call me. A lot of times he’d be super blue because a girl broke up with him or something happened in one of his businesses. He’d reach out, but sometimes we didn’t know what to do. That’s why I think it’s important for people to have access to people trained in suicide intervention too.”

In his last year of life, Neumeier, 54, decided to move the Rib Room to a different location. He rented out the original location to the Sound Room and put it up for sale. The stress and expense of moving the business and paying for both buildings was difficult for him, and although he reached out to family and friends, his chronic and situational depression proved to be too much for him to overcome.

“My mom’s health took a turn for the worse after Billy died,” Hearn said. “Knowing how much he loved helping others, we wanted to honor his memory by raising money for suicide awareness and prevention. It took time and effort meeting with lawyers and accountants to set up the foundation, and by the time it was launched on Nov. 20, 2020, COVID was in full swing.”

After Neumeier’s death, his brother Joseph became the owner/manager of the Rib Room and Papa's Pub and Pizzeria. Hearn helped her father care for her mother and run the nursery, which closed last year. Dealing with grief, family illness and several businesses delayed plans to hold fundraisers and promote the foundation.

“When Billy first died, I wasn’t dealing with it very well, and then I thought about what he did to help others and knew what I needed to do,” Hearn said. “We are ready to take our next steps.” 

The foundation has received donations from Neumeier’s friends in the community, and when Hearn’s floral business had a fall festival, they sold slices of pizza from Papa's Pub and Pizzeria and deposited all the proceeds into the foundation. The board will be planning a fundraiser in the near future.

Donations can be made to the Bill Neumeier Suicide Awareness Foundation at All donations go to support suicide awareness organizations in the Fort Smith area. Organizations wishing to apply for grants should contact the foundation at P.O. Box 11967, Fort Smith, AR 72917 or

“Always remember that you can’t get help unless you reach out,” Hearn said. “The National Suicide and Crisis Hotline phone number is 988.”

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