John O’Connor, 73, Watford City, N.D., passed away on Dec. 8, 2023, while in transitional care at Missouri Slope Nursing Home/Rehab, Bismarck, N.D. Born in Chicago, Ill., in 1950 to Archie (Bud) and Barbara Jean (Morrison) O’Connor, John was the third of six children. At a young age, John’s parents moved the family to Clinton, Mich., for his dad to set up a Family Medical Practice. He attended St. Elizabeth Catholic School until the 8th grade, then finished his education at a public school in Clinton.
After graduating from Clinton High School in 1968, John enlisted in the Army serving in NATO - Germany from 1968 to 1971 as an MP. Upon returning home he met the love of his life, Kay Grossman. They were united in marriage May 17, 1974. From this union three children were born, Mathew, Paul and Emily. In 1977 John moved his family to North Dakota to attend UND-Grand Forks, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1981, later receiving a Masters Degree in General Education.
Anyone who knew John knew he was born to teach. John began his teaching career in Esmond, N.D., in 1981. In fall of 1984, John and family moved to Watford City, N.D., where he taught Physics, Chemistry and Physical Science for over 30 years. After retiring from Watford City High School, John continued to teach Physics and Chemistry part-time at Alexander, N.D., for six years. John was recognized and celebrated for his teaching, and was selected as Teacher of the Year for the state of North Dakota in 1989-90. John was known around school by his students as Mr. O’Connor, Mr. O’C, Mr. Science, Mr. Wizard and by his children as Mr. Dad. His students will forever remember the lessons and science experiments he taught in the classroom and science lab as he was always blowing something up. He had a unique gift for engaging kids and making learning fun in the moment, as well as instilling that love of learning throughout their lives.
During the summers off from teaching, John had a variety of occupations and activities, including Mr. Wizard demonstrations at Art-in-the-Park to fascinate the curious minds of young and old. Working as a Seasonal Interpreter Park Ranger at Theodore Roosevelt National Park South and North Unit, was a natural calling for John. He truly enjoyed working as a park ranger as it gave him the opportunity to share his wealth of information about the geography and wildlife in the park, and of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
After John’s retirement from teaching, he would be seen driving the back roads of McKenzie County, taking pictures to preserve the countryside. He was also keen on road-trips to visit family in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest, usually taking the scenic route. He delighted in cooking, reading a good book and staying informed, telling a witty, punny, and/or clever joke, and sharing his “Mirth and Jocularity” emails with his friends and family to brighten their day.
He loved classical music, the Beatles, and exposing others, especially his children, to said music. John dabbled on the guitar, but his true musical talent was his whistling. John was famous for his vast whistling abilities which gave students a heads up that a teacher was coming down the hall so they could stop any mischief they may have been getting into.
John is survived by his wife of 49 years, Kay (Grossman) O’Connor; and their three children, Mathew (Rebecca) O’Connor Sr., Paul O’Connor, and Emily (Chris) McCarley; grandchildren, Peter, Patrick, Mathew Jr., Jacob, Enoch, David O’Connor; Sebastian and Josephine McCarley; and siblings, Rory (Judy) O’Connor and Kathleen (Dan) Daly; along with nieces and many nephews.
John was preceded in death by his parents, Archie and Barbara Jean O’Connor; his step-mother, Marianne O’Connor; his brothers, Kevin and Dennis O’Connor; sister, Eileen O’Connor; and nephew, Devon Daly; along with grandparents; aunts and uncles.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held at the Watford City Assembly of God Church in Watford City, N.D., on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at 11 a.m. with reception to follow. John did not want to be mourned, but rather celebrated, bringing people together. Fulkerson Stevenson Funeral Home of Watford City, N.D., is assisting the family. Remembrances, condolences, and pictures may be shared with the family at www.fulkersons.com.
John’s ashes will be laid to rest in Manchester, Mich., cemetery during a Graveside Ceremony in the summer of 2024. The details of this service have yet to be determined. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital (www.stjude.org) as this was a charity he contributed to.