The Obit For Claude O'Connell

'Skeet' O'Connell dies at age 96

College's coach, athletic director was 'epitome of what Clark sports was all about'

By Matt Calkins
Saturday, July 14, 2012

On the go for his near century-long life, Claude "Skeet" O'Connell is finally at rest.

One of Clark College's most influential figures, O'Connell died Saturday morning in his east Vancouver retirement community home at the age of 96.

A longtime athletic director at the school, O'Connell also coached the Penguins men's basketball program to state championships in 1947, 1954, 1955 and 1956, while leading the baseball team to a state title in '56, too.

"Skeet is the epitome of what Clark sports was all about," said longtime Penguins booster Jim Raines. "You didn't

have to be an athlete to know who Skeet was. He treated every student at Clark the same whether you were an athlete or not."

O'Connell moved to Vancouver to work in the shipyards during World War II after a medical condition kept him out of the military. Soon enough, the former minor-league baseball player found himself teaching at Lincoln Elementary, and then principal at Fruit Valley.

After the war ended, Clark established an athletic department and brought on O'Connell to be the athletic director, basketball coach, and baseball coach.

More than six decades later, his name still resonates.

"He was the perfect mentor for young people," said former Clark athletic director Denny Huston, who called O'Connell his mentor. "And there were so many people that he touched."

Center of Clark College
Perhaps the most telling sign of his influence is the O'Connell Sports Center -- a building that encompasses the school's gymnasium and athletic offices -- which was dedicated in his name in 1986. But O'Connell remained involved with the school for a long time after.

In a Columbian story profiling O'Connell three years ago, Huston noted, "The only detracting thing I can say is, he retired from four or five positions here at Clark, and people got tired of throwing retirement parties."

Added the ever-ebullient O'Connell: "I flunked retirement."