William O’Connell has been blessed with the luck of the Irish, which, in his
case, is his Irish family.
son of Matthew and Ruth Black O’Connell, his road to college began with a high
school scholarship and a hefty push from his older sister, Pat, and his mother.
Now Mike Carlson, Pat’s son and O’Connell’s nephew, and his wife, Susan, have
honored all the O’Connells and their dedication to education by creating a
scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
Carlsons made a $5,000 gift, which was matched by $5,000 from the GE
Foundation, to establish The O’Connell Family Scholarship. The scholarship will
give first preference to students who are residents of McKean, Cameron or Elk
counties in Pennsylvania and Cattaraugus, Wyoming or Chautauqua counties in New
wanted to recognize the O’Connell family, including my grandparents, mother and
several uncles, but particularly my Uncle Bill,” said Carlson, who is a member
of the university’s advisory board. “Bill was the first family member to ever
attend college. He was a role model for us growing up and influenced many, both
family and non-family.”
grew up in Riderville, a swampy area with nine homes between what is now
Bradford Regional Airport and State Game Lands 62.
folks in Riderville had a dad who worked on an oil lease and lived in a little
house that had been built by one of the oil companies. The second youngest of
eight children, O’Connell grew up in a 3-bedroom house that when he was very
young didn’t have indoor plumbing.
knew everyone in the little burg, and his aunt and uncle ran a post office and
small general store in nearby Mount Alton, where O’Connell was an altar boy at
St. Joseph’s Church.
day when he was in junior high, the parish priest told him he could attend St.
Bernard High School in Bradford. O’Connell accepted the gift without really
knowing where it came from, but he believes the parish paid his tuition.
St. Bernard, he became a football and basketball star and set city records, but
after graduation, he had no plans of college.
sister, Pat, stepped in. She wanted Bill to come live with her and her husband,
Bob Carlson, and their three small children, Mike, J.P. and Cathleen.
moved into Bradford to live with the Carlsons and went out to look for a job.
He was offered two: one in a bank and one in a factory making electrical
components. He, of course, wanted to take the bank job with its dress shirts
and professional demeanor. No, his sister said, if you take that job, you will
never leave. Take the factory job – besides you’re going to school.
am?” he thought. He was. Pat had friends who were teachers who had gone to
Clarion State Teachers College (now Clarion University) and who knew Waldo
Tippin, the athletic director and football coach for whom Clarion’s Tippin
gymnasium is named. Tippin was interested in having Bill play football for him.
Christmas, Pat and Bob told Bill he had been enrolled in Clarion. They dropped
him off in January, and he reported for basketball practice the next day. He
never did end up playing football for Tippin, but he met his wife, Mary Lee,
and they married Bill’s senior year. He graduated in January 1960 with a social
knows sacrifices were made to get him through school (his mother picked ground
pine and sold it to give him a little spending money, for instance), but the
details were sketchy.
first full-time job was in the Limestone, N.Y., school district where he taught
math, English and social studies, coached baseball, basketball, football and
track and drove the team bus to games. When the principal/superintendent left,
the school board asked him to take over. He was 26.
went on to be an administrator who would affect hundreds of teachers through his
28-year career as an administrator, being one of the superintendents to set up
the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in Cattaraugus County,
acting as a principal in Pioneer Central Schools and founding the middle school
there, and then teaching in and administering the teacher education program at
St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
this time, he also served on a team of New York State Department of Education
personnel evaluating “Schools of Distinction” throughout the state.
nephew Mike Carlson said, “It is appropriate to use a scholarship to recognize
the family name, but as important to recognize an educator.” The O’Connells now
live in Delevan, N.Y.
information on contributing to the O’Connell Scholarship or starting a
scholarship at Pitt-Bradford, contact Jill Ballard, executive director of
institutional advancement at (814)362-5091 or firstname.lastname@example.org.