Board of Directors

Diane A. McNeil

In 1975, as a young wife and mother, McNeil had a life-changing encounter that revealed God’s love for both Jews and Christians. A life of pursuing Jewish-Christian relations ensued.

In 1997, McNeil was told by a Jewish friend that it was time for Christians to start blessing Jews and presented a challenge for Christians to remember Israel’s upcoming 50th Birthday as a nation. A group of area Christians organized “Christian Friends of Israel Memphis” and purchased an Israeli Red Cross ambulance as a present for the Memphis and Mid-South Jewish community at their 50th celebration.

In 2,000, this same group hosted a month-long Holocaust exhibit, “The Remembering,” commemorating Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance). The exhibit was free to the public but donations were accepted. At month’s end there was money to pay passage for over 70 Russian Jews to make Aliyah to Israel.

McNeil served on the Board of Memphis Friends of Israel for over five years.

In 2009, Susan Powell, Melissa (Swartz) Wheeler and McNeil began the “Pennies Project” by challenging Horn Lake Middle School students to collect 1.5 million pennies, one for each child who was murdered in the Holocaust.

In 2014, the Unknown Child Foundation, Inc. was formed.

McNeil has authored two books on Jewish-Christian relations.

Ken McNeil

Ken, retired, began his career as office manager for a commercial construction company where, in addition to his day-to-day activities, he gained estimating experience. Changing industries, he worked in sales in the securities and insurance industry and obtained his National Association of Securities Dealer license and his series “7” insurance license required to sell the company’s products. Ken was then recruited by a long-time friend and fellow softball player, into a 41-year bank finance career, rising through the ranks as Auditor, Controller, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Senior Vice-President and CFO, Executive Vice-President and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and CFO. During his banking career as a Senior Executive, Ken was responsible for Sales and Branch Administration, Finance, Human Resources, Operations Management and the Bank’s Business Strategic Planning process. Ken was actively involved with the merger and acquisition process, including serving in an 18-month “think tank” for NationsBank (now Bank of America). Ken served as Bank Director for Commerce Union Bank of Memphis and Victory Bank and Trust Company. Ken, also, created his own consulting firm, Avantor Consulting, Inc., and performed work in aviation, banking, communication and transportation industries.

Ken attended Northwest Mississippi Junior College and Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) majoring in finance, finishing in 1973. He also graduated from the School of Banking, University of Wisconsin and the Mid-South School of Banking.

Outside activities include serving various roles in the Financial Executives Institute; Germantown Rotary Club; Inroads/Memphis, Inc.; City of Germantown, Finance and Personnel Committees; Mid-America Student Housing, Inc.; Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Development Council; Christian Friends of Israel – Memphis; Memphis Friends of Israel and Unknown Child Foundation, Inc. He is a graduate of Leadership of Memphis, Class of 1990.

Michelle Thornton

Michelle is a graduate of Mississippi State University with Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance. She has over 32 years experience in various banking, finance and office administration positions. Currently, she is employed with AERC, an architectural firm, as their office supervisor/manager where she oversees employee personnel and benefits. She is also owner and part owner in two other property acquisition and management companies. Michelle also helps small companies with bookkeeping services. Michelle is a charter board member of the Unknown Child Foundation and serves as Secretary for both the Executive Committee and the Unknown Child Board.

Michelle was born in Corinth, Mississippi and is married to Doug Thornton, AIA. They have three children and three grandchildren. They have called Hernando, Mississippi home for over 20 years.

Peter Felsenthal

Peter is currently a founding partner with Lift Insight & Capital Partners, a Memphis, Tennessee advisory group focused on supporting privately held and family businesses with growth, leadership and transitions. Peter previously served as Chief Executive Officer of his fourth generation family owned and operated business, Whitmor Inc., based in Southaven, Mississippi. Prior to joining his family business in 1981, Peter was engaged in the practice of law.

Peter graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration and subsequently received his law degree from the University of Memphis.

In addition to his current work with Lift Insight & Capital Partners, Peter is active in a number of philanthropic activities in the Memphis and Midsouth region. In addition to currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Unknown Child Foundation and on the allocation committee for the Lemsky Foundation, Peter has served on the Boards for Plough Towers, Desoto County Economic Development Council and Southaven Chamber of Commerce. He also actively supports, among other causes, the American Heart Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Facing History and Ourselves, Jewish Foundation of Memphis and Bornblum Jewish Community School.

Peter enjoys golf and is a passionate fan of the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt University and the Memphis Grizzlies. He enjoys traveling domestically and internationally as well as spending time with his wife Judy and his children and grandchildren. His oldest son, Scott, serves as CEO at Whitmor, Inc, and his youngest son, Andrew, resides in Atlanta, GA and is the Director of Racquet Sports at Lifetime Fitness.

Upon learning of the Pennies Project and the mission of the Unknown Child Foundation, Peter knew that this was a mission he needed to join. Peter believes the plight of the children of the Holocaust, and particularly the 1.5 million children who perished, is something that must never be forgotten. The ability to uniquely remember such precious children and spread the message that we must never forget is something that resonated strongly with Peter.

Susan Powell

Susan is an elementary school teacher who has a passion for the Holocaust. At an early age, her mother shared the story of Corrie Ten Boom from The Hiding Place. Her mother would often say, “If Corrie could forgive those who hurt her, you can choose to forgive too.” When sharing Boom’s story and the concept of forgiveness with current students, 7th grade gifted students at Horn Lake Middle, they expressed annoyance that they lacked knowledge of this time in history. After meeting with Diane McNeil and a fellow teacher, Melissa Wheeler, the Unknown Child Penny Project was established. This project became the Unknown Child Foundation, a nonprofit, to continue to raise Holocaust awareness.

A graduate of Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary school, Susan utilizes 34 years of experience in education to provide engaging, enriched experiences for her 2nd grade gifted students. She was selected as the 2018-2019 Pleasant Hill Elementary Teacher of the Year and the DeSoto County Teacher of the Year. Susan serves as co-chair for her school’s Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support Committee as well as serves as a mentor to new teachers.

Susan is married to Chris Powell, who is also a board member of the Unknown Child Foundation. They reside in Olive Branch, MS. The Powell’s have two daughters and two grandchildren.

Chris Powell

Chris Powell is an IT professional who has a strong desire to better understand the Holocaust and the far-reaching impact it continues to have on our world. Participation in the Unknown Child Foundation has provided a lens through which we can more fully grasp the extent of the Holocaust and its continuing impact on the families of the children who perished.

Chris studied at Auburn University and earned a Bachelor of Aviation Management. In addition, he earned a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of Texas-Arlington. He is currently a Systems Architect Advisor at FedEx Corporate Services in Collierville, TN. Chris has over 39 years of experience in a broad range of fields, including telecommunications, infrastructure management/ITIL, proposal development, and product management.

Chris is married to Susan Powell, who is also a board member of the Unknown Child Foundation. They reside in Olive Branch, MS. The Powells have two daughters and two grandchildren.