John “Steve” Okoniewski

August 22, 1949
February 25, 2024

It turns out even the lives of those who are larger than life must come to an end.  After a tenacious battle with sepsis, former Green Bay Packers linebacker, long-time Green Bay resident, and retired Luxemburg-Casco High School principal John S. (“Steve”) Okoniewski died at his home Sunday, February 25, 2024. Born August 22, 1949 in Bremerton, WA, Steve had an active childhood exploring the Pacific Northwest wilderness and playing sports. Time in nature and athletics would persist as prevailing themes his whole life.

Steve’s toughness and strength attracted the attention of colleges. He started college on a football scholarship at the University of Washington, went on to earn the title of All American both offensively and defensively at Everett Community College in Everett, WA, and then graduated from the University of Montana after twice earning the title of All American. He would later be inducted into the State of Montana’s Football Hall of Fame in 2021. Selected as pick No. 42 in the second round of the NFL draft, a 6-year NFL career followed Steve’s days as a Montana Grizzly. This career introduced him to Green Bay, where he played from 1974 – 1976. “He’s not blessed with the most physical talent, but there’s not a harder worker,” then-Coach Bart Starr said of Steve. “You’d like to be able to transplant his heart into some people.”

After hanging up his own football jersey, Steve found a way to channel his love for the game while giving back: coaching. Steve began a second career in high school education in Montana and soon discovered a passion for connecting with youth through the medium of the sport. Among his proudest accomplishments was leading the Deer Lodge Wardens to playoffs in 1979 after he inherited the team with a 0-8 record. He would continue to maintain contact with the players on the team and people of Deer Lodge for the rest of his life.

Besides coaching, Steve’s leadership skills were seen in his second career as a high school principal. He received his Master’s in School Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and worked as high school principal in Wibaux, MT and St. Francis, WI before finding a home at Luxemburg-Casco High School, where he served for 25 years. Steve admired the community-minded and hard-working values of the greater Luxemburg, WI community, where he worked until he retired in 2014. A fixture at LCHS for thousands of students, Steve also volunteered as assistant coach to the Luxemburg-Casco Spartans football team during his tenure at the school.

Steve’s grit and determination made him larger than life, and were on display for all to see with his trademark arthritis-mangled fingers and disfigured ankle joints. He was renowned as an early advocate of a high fiber diet, a fervent proponent of dental hygiene and daily flossing, and as an unerring champion of his NFL losers’ pool. Steve kept himself young spending lots of time outdoors, running and/or cycling daily. He completed five marathons, his best under three hours. During the summers he would make annual pilgrimages to fish under the big Montana skies and swim in the Puget Sound near where he grew up. He spent the Wisconsin winters cross-country skiing, and each year looked forward to the 50 km Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI (completing the race 19 times).

Among Steve’s many talents was an uncanny, encyclopedic ability to navigate the US highway and freeway system from memory without GPS. Among Steve’s many dogmas was a categorical refusal to fly. This resulted in many cross-country drives a year for Steve (and often his loved ones). Although often known as the life of the party or as having a public presence as a school leader, these drives gave Steve moments in solitude to reflect and reconnect with the vast nature around him. They also had many pit stops so he could engage in his preferred form of meditation: fishing. It is believed that a cut while fishing led to the sepsis that Steve confronted in his final months with his signature stalwart style.

Steve is survived by his long-term partner, Nancy Frank, of Green Bay, WI; his brother, Michael Okoniewski, of Woodland, WA; his daughter and son-in-law, Wendy and Shawn Tedford, of Silverdale, WA; his daughter, Ivy Okoniewski, of Fort Lauderdale, FL; his daughter, Maggie Okoniewski, of Denver, CO; and granddaughters, Clara and Ellie Tedford, of Silverdale, WA.

A memorial to honor his many achievements and passion for life will be held Saturday, April 6, 2024 at Olde 41 at Vandervest Harley Davidson of Green Bay (1966 Velp Avenue) from 2 – 5 pm, with a service starting at 2 pm and reception to follow. Additional gatherings will occur over the summer in Montana and Kitsap County, WA. Please contact [email protected] for any details or if you have photos or videos you would like to share. Online condolences may be expressed at

In lieu of flowers, Steve’s family requests donations be made via the memorial page of the National Park Foundation,  Make A Gift – National Park Foundation (, which works to connect kids to America’s wild places. Please include [email protected] in the designated field so his family is advised of any gifts.

Make A Gift – National Park Foundation (