Irwin police officer loved sports, especially racquetball
Chances are good that if you hurt yourself horsing around in Irwin Park during the 1960s and ’70s, you went to John O’Connell’s house to call your parents.
And if your injury was a little more serious, it was probably Mr. O’Connell who took you to the emergency room.
“We lived right by the playground on Pennsylvania Avenue, and he really enjoyed watching us and all the kids who went there,” said his son Dan O’Connell, 61, of Uniontown. “He knew everyone’s kids in town.”
John J. “Jack” O’Connell of Irwin died Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, of complications from pneumonia. He was 89.
Mr. O’Connell was born Aug. 2, 1929, in Irwin, a son of the late Francis L. and Nell (Hensler) O’Connell. He attended the former Irwin High School, where he played basketball.
Mr. O’Connell served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
“I don’t think he saw a lot of action,” Dan said. “He was stationed in England, and when I asked him once what he did in the war, he said he played a lot of baseball.”
A love of sports — both spectating and participating — lasted for Mr. O’Connell’s entire life.
“He went to every one of my baseball games in college,” said his son Kevin O’Connell, 52, of North Huntingdon. “He didn’t want to miss any of us playing sports, even my kids. He worked a midnight shift at the police department so he would be around during the day for our games.”
Mr. O’Connell spent his career as a police officer for Irwin and eventually Churchill.
After returning from military service, he earned his barber’s certification through the GI Bill and had a second career cutting hair out of his basement.
“He just loved people,” Dan said. “I think that’s why he had a barbershop, just to be around people and talk all day.”
Mr. O’Connell also became an avid racquetball player and a member of the Westmoreland Racquet Club in Greensburg in his 40s.
“He and I played racquetball together since I was 10 years old,” Kevin O’Connell said.
Mr. O’Connell “traveled to racquetball tournaments all over Pennsylvania and Ohio, and he’d win them,” Dan O’Connell said. “He’d play kids 20 years old and beat them. He was even nationally ranked at one point.”
He was also a professional sports fan, following Notre Dame, the Steelers and Pirates.
“He put us and everyone else first,” Kevin O’Connell said. “He didn’t care if he only had two cents in his pocket, as long as everyone else had what they needed. He was a giver.”
Mr. O’Connell is survived by four children, Jackie Natale and her husband, Richard, of North Huntingdon, Dan O’Connell and his wife, Paula, of Uniontown, John O’Connell Jr. and his fiancee, Janet Stegall, of Birmingham, Ala., and Kevin O’Connell and his wife, Michelle, of North Huntingdon; five grandchildren, Nicole and Tony Natale, and Dante, Courtney and Brittany O’Connell; two great-grandchildren, Taylor and Cooper Natale; and a sister, Eileen McHugh of Hempfield.
A funeral will take place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in Immaculate Conception Church, 308 Second St., Irwin. Interment will follow in Immaculate Conception Cemetery.
Memorial donations can be made to the National Kidney Foundation, 2403 Sidney St., Suite 230, Pittsburgh, PA, 15203.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.