Obituary of Kenneth B. O’Connell
Kenneth B. O’Connell, 94 ½ years young, passed away Friday, September 7, 2018. A Funeral Mass will be said on September 22, 2018, at 11 am at St. Patrick’s Church. Reception and lunch immediately following, at the family home.
Ken was born Kenneth Brotnov Oakley to Lillian Gene Brotnov Oakley and Hurtis G. Oakley, on February 16, 1924, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where his father was stationed as a U.S. Custom Officer. He was later adopted by Lillian’s second husband, Charles O’Connell. Ken always joked that he would probably be the only Irishman to join the Sons of Norway organization.
Ken was raised in Mount Vernon, WA, attended and graduated Mount Vernon Union High School where he lettered in football. In the fall of 1942, Ken enrolled in Gonzaga University with the intent of obtaining an aero-engineering degree, when the call to join the Army Air Corps changed his life. During WWII he was a tail gunner on B-25’s and earned numerous medals for his service. With an Honorable Discharge at the end of the war, he enrolled in aviation school, earning his commercial pilot license, instrument, instructor certification and multi-engine rating. This allowed him to pursue his love of flying and teaching by heading to Lake Charles, LA, where he crop dusted in a Bi-Plane, flew sea planes, air ambulances, charters; and was director of the local ground and flight school. Missing the military life, he joined the Air Force. During the Korean War he was attached to the Troop Transport Wing and flew C-119s and again was awarded numerous medals. He also served in Vietnam.
After his time in Korea and prior to his next assignment, he traveled across the country visiting relatives, including his Uncle Steve (Elmer “Chief ” Stevens) here in Grass Valley. Uncle Steve introduced Ken to another teacher at Grass Valley High School, Jeanne Hall, and the rest was history. After marrying at Lowary Air Force Base, CO in early September 1953, they welcomed a son, Kevin the following July. From Colorado, they were stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls TX, where they welcomed another son, Sean and a daughter, Molly. From Texas, they were stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, HI and Scott Air Force Base, Belleville IL.
While stationed in Hawaii, Ken received a commendation for piloting a crippled airplane across the Pacific from Travis Air Force Base, landing in Hilo HI, the closest airport and saving 72 lives. On a routine mission of transporting military families and patients from Travis to Hickam Air Force Base, and at the past of the point of no return, one of the 4 engines caught fire, forcing it to be shut down. Shortly thereafter, another engine developed issues, causing the crew to fly with just 2 engines. He replied, when asked how he flew the crippled plane, “We were in no real trouble, but I didn’t like the situation”.
Upon Ken’s retirement from the Air Force in 1969, the family moved back to Grass Valley. Ken taught ground and flight school at Nevada County Park. He also worked at the Grass Valley Ford. When he fully retired, he took care of the house and acted as Jeanne’s “office assistant and chauffeur”. Ken was an active member of St. Patrick’s Church. He was a big sports fan, especially golf and was a member of
the Nevada County Country Club since 1970, continuing his membership even though his health didn’t allow him to play. He served as Trustee of the Nevada Joint Union High School Board from 1971 to 1974; and was a 46 year member of the Grass Valley Elks Lodge, serving as an officer. He also loved opera and for many years had season tickets to the Sacramento Opera.
Ken is survived by his son and daughter-inlaw Kevin and Karen of Yuba City; and daughter Molly of Grass Valley; cousin Jan Stevens and his wife Carole; many cousins and nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by his wife of 63 years, Jeanne; son Sean; mother Lillian Miller; Uncle Elmer and Aunt Marguerite Stevens; cousins Col. Warren Brotnov, USAF (Retired) and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The family would like to thank Dr. Todd Bouchier and Dr. Ryan Smith and their staff, who without their great care, we would not have had dad as long as we did. And thank you to the staff at Golden Empire Nursing and Rehab for their dedication and kindness in taking care of Ken in his final days. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Ken’s name to the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. He was a great and caring husband, father and friend, and will be greatly missed.
Arrangements are under the direction of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary.
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