O’Connor, Katherine (Kay) Magdalene (nee Sestric) passed away September 25, 2020, peacefully of natural causes at 97 years at St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna, WI. Kay was born January 3, 1923, in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, KS, to Mijo Sestric and Bara (Suc), Croatian immigrants working in the KC meat packing plants. Kay’s first language was Serbo-Croatian. She realized the American dream despite losing her father at age 10, living through the Great Depression and WWII, and surviving emergency exploratory brain surgery in a pre-MRI era to remove a benign tumor. Her parents made sure she and her two sisters earned college degrees.
Kay lived through so much in her 97 years. Her father died when she was very young and her mom then moved Kay and her older sister, Annie, to Brooklyn, NY, and then to Detroit, MI, which the family considered home for the rest of Kay’s growing-up years. In Detroit, Kay’s mom married a Serbian man, Miles Pavich, who thrived in his role of dad and, eventually, grandpa. A highlight of Kay’s post-retirement years was her trips to Croatia and Medjugorje to reconnect with her roots.
Kay was a veteran of WWII serving in Washington D.C. and Florida as a Coast Guard SPAR. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UW-Madison, where she met and married the love of her life, Clarence “Pat” O’Connor, who was attending law school there. After a few years in Madison, Clarence moved the growing family to his hometown, Kaukauna, where he had grown up on a dairy farm just south of town. Kay was now folded into the massive O’Connor clan centered in Kaukauna.
After her youngest child reached school-age, Kay obtained her teacher certification from Outagamie County Teachers’ College. She taught 2nd grade in Kaukauna Public Schools for 15 years. She loved teaching all kids but had a special place in her heart for those kids who have a harder time learning, tutoring them outside of school to help them get to grade level. Additionally, she helped teach English to Hmong immigrants, just as her mother had done for Croatian immigrants. She knew, as a person of faith and an American, that just as her family had been helped by others, she had an obligation to be that support for those in need around her.
A longtime member of Holy Cross Parish, Kay was determined to see that all kids, including those with special needs, were able to receive their first communion. To that end, Kay began religion classes on Saturday mornings for any kids who needed extra help in learning about the faith that was so important to her. Her own kids were called upon to assist with these lessons.
Kay is survived by five children, 15 grandchildren, and 9 great grandchildren- Susan (Ed) Patschke, Ryan (Joseph Chang), Sarah (Patrick) Sweeney & Addison; Kevin (Cheryl), Clare (Matt Moore) & Elise, Meredith (Lucas) Murray & Emerson, Caitlin; Barry (Rebecca), Benjamin (Sara) & Cole & Annie, Sam (Kate) & Jack & Abby, Alex (Nicole) & Finn; Marianne, Emily (Brian) Boger, Eric Bach, Charles Bach, Samuel (Joshua) Bach-Hanson; Ellen (Joel) Sauer, Alexandra, Calvin (Brittany Turnbow) & Milo, Drew. She loved each and every one, but Kay always knew which one of her children was her favorite.
Kay is also survived by one sister Barbara (Fred) Lindstrom, a sister-in-law Florence (Jack) Roberts, and many nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her husband, one son Patrick, her mom, dad, and stepdad (Miles Pavich), her sister Ann Sestric, and many of Clarence’s siblings and in-laws.
Kay’s life was long and full. She strove to impart compassion in each of us who follow in her steps.
A special thank you to the amazing, dedicated, skilled staff at St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna, WI. They all helped make her last years fun and positive. They were remarkable in normal times, and they have been phenomenal since the world turned upside-down this year.
Kay’s family asks that, in lieu of flowers, gifts be made in Kay’s memory to St. Paul Elder Services at the following link:
More importantly, we know that Kay would ask that each day you, without judgment, try to make life a bit easier for someone who is struggling. Be kind!
Burial will be private. A post-COVID celebration of Kay’s life will be planned next year.
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