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The Luxemburg-Casco Family Remembers and Honors Mr. Okoniewski

Steve Okoniewski
August 22, 1948 - February 25, 2024

It is with great sadness that we mourn the recent passing of Steve Okoniewski, but more importantly remember, recognize, and pay tribute to a “true” Spartan icon, former High School Principal, coach, colleague, and friend.

Steve was born on August 22, 1949, in Bremerton, Washington. He attended High School at Central Kitsap in Silverdale, Washington. Steve was a self-made man that took it upon himself to not let circumstances determine his fate. He chose to become what he wanted to be and worked tirelessly to accomplish his goal of playing football in college and in the NFL. He was an All-American football player and then played collegiately for the Montana Grizzlies. He was drafted in 1972 in the 2nd round (41 pick overall), which demonstrated his exceptional talent as he played both offensive and defensive line, and later, due to his relentless effort and tenacity, was a fixture on the defensive line for the majority of his career. He played for the Buffalo Bills , Green Bay Packers, and the St. Louis Cardinals, each for 2 years.

In his playing days, and I think a lesson he carried on and demonstrated with his mentality as a leader to everyone that knew him here at Luxemburg-Casco, Steve once said, “My mentality was that effort was the great equalizer. You sprint to the ball every play, be in better shape than your competition, maximize your potential by recognizing your weaknesses and targeting them for improvement. Don’t get injured, nobody cares. And play every play like it could be your last, it could be.” Steve was hard-nosed and no nonsense through and through. Take it or leave it.

NFL Hall of Famers that Steve played with and shared some social moments with them as well, include: Bart Starr, Forest Gregg, Joe Gibbs, Jim Ringo, Norm Van Brocklin, Stan Jones, Ted Hendricks, Dan Deardorff, and O.J. Simpson (and Steve said, “Now I’m referring to him on the football field,” followed by his famous Mr. O smirk).

After his NFL career, Steve attended UW-Oshkosh and received his master’s degree in Physical Education and a
teaching certificate. His first job was in Deer Lodge, Montana, where he taught at the high school level and coached
football and track. He then moved on and coached and was a principal at Wibaux, Montana, and at St. Francis High
School, outside of Milwaukee, Mr. O found his home as principal and assistant football coach here at
Luxemburg-Casco High School in 1989 and continued in this pivotal role for our school until his retirement in 2014.

When first meeting Steve, many thought that he had this tough hard outer shell. His voice, appearance, and
presence in a room were larger than life itself. He was rough and rowdy in his actions; ready to put the smack down
if needed and always, always ready for a good time. However, to know Mr. Okoniewski, once you were able to crack
that shell and really get to know Steve, you were quickly able to see that he was able to lead so many with
compassion and empathy. Beyond that shell was a man who had the ability to earn the respect of some of the
toughest kids while teaching them life lessons. Mostly because those tough kids knew that he truly cared about
them and what became of them. When students met him after high school, he would talk with them, ask how they
were doing, and talk about the old high school stories he remembered. You never had to wonder what he was
thinking because he said things like they were and didn't candy coat anything. For him, things were what they were.
We all could take a lesson out of Steve's playbook. Live hard, love hard, and be a true version of yourself. He will be
missed by so many whose lives were touched by him. -(from Kathy Nelson, Luxemburg-Casco Teacher)

"There's a lot of things in my life that if I could do them over, I'd make better decisions," Okoniewski said of his
earlier days. "But the thing I'm sort of happy about is I feel I've made an impact on some kids' lives to help them
make the right decisions. Maybe that's why I'm doing penance for being a high school principal." "If a kid has a 2.5
GPA and maybe gets in some trouble, it doesn't cast him into eternal ruination and burning in hell. I have faith in
kids. I respect kids. I don't care what they look like, what their background is, what their nationality is as long as
they show respect to the school, students and teachers."

Steve’s legacy here at Luxemburg-Casco is one of courage, determination, discipline, and an unwavering commitment
to supporting and loving the students, the athletes, the teachers, its coaches, this school, and our community. Even
after his retirement, Steve would still be actively supporting and visible at events because he loved us. Some of his
most memorable moments with many of us were those famous stories of Steve we heard in school, or at social
events, as well as at the end of football games leading our football team with his own rendition of “The Ring of Fire”.

I was so grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to see Steve over Christmas break in the hospital. I share
this with all of you now because in a weird way, I know I was speaking for many of you that didn’t have that chance. I
talked with him for over an hour, along with Nancy. I thanked him for everything he did for me, both personally and
professionally. I thanked him for always having my back. I gave him a Spartan Football helmet and some state
football gear and even though he couldn’t attend those games, he was there with us in spirit, and more importantly
in our hearts. The boys all sang “The Ring of Fire” for him on our way back home after beating Catholic Memorial
and I recorded it and played it for him. The smile on his face was priceless. I told him I loved him and I gave him the
biggest hug I could. Never knowing that would be the last time I would see him. The most important lesson I can
share with anyone reading this is if there is someone in your life that you truly appreciate and love, don’t wait to tell
them, do it, do it now.

Mr. Okoniewski will forever be remembered for all that he was; his laugh, his huge bear hugs, his leadership, and
most importantly his heart. Steve’s compassion and love for Luxemburg-Casco was unparalleled and something we
all should aspire to achieve. It’s something we should remember each and every day. If you were to cut Steve, he’d
bleed maroon and gold. He is Luxemburg-Casco and Mr. O will forever be in our hearts, our minds, and our souls. now
and forever. Thank you Mr. Okoniewski for your love and the positive impact you made on so many of us here at
Luxemburg-Casco. We love you Steve! May the peace of the Lord be with you always.

Mr. Steve Okoniewski’s Induction Speech into Montana Football Hall of Fame.
https://youtu.be/InNE6cvFCTc?si=3ppUTjoem3A-58LT