'The most selfless person': Oconomowoc is celebrating a longtime and beloved resident who's been diagnosed with ALS
On Friday, the Oconomowoc community will not only be celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but Jim O' Connor Day.
According to a proclamation city officials signed on March 7, Oconomowoc Mayor Robert Magnus and the city "do formally and with personal pleasure recognize and congratulate Jim O’Connor on his business success and contributions to the Oconomowoc community, and encourage all who have the opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate, and extend their appreciation on March 17."
Some of O'Connor's noted contributions, the community recognized, are his long-standing business, Jim O'Connor Select Auto and his involvement and commitment to the Oconomowoc Chamber of Commerce, the Oconomowoc Food Pantry, Lake Area Free Clinic, the Lions and Kiwanis Clubs, Oconomowoc High School Booster Club, Oconomowoc High School Grilling to Give and Post Prom, the Oconomowoc Skate Park, and the John and Lavinia Rockwell Park.
The proclamation also recognizes his business for having been "built on repeat and referral customers, as well as a work culture which maintains a high employee retention" and for the "simple and effective business motto of 'Treat others as you wish to be treated.'"
The past year, O'Connor supported a Ukrainian mother and her 4-month-old son who were fleeing the war in their homeland, said Magnus. He was also recognized for being a “Life-Long Good Samaritan.”
"He just cares about people," Magnus told the Journal Sentinel. "Jim cares so much and wants no recognition. He is all about community and kindness."
What makes this even more special, said Karen Spiegelberg, city alderwoman for the 1st District and also a close family friend, is that "Jim is a staunch and loyal Irishman who loyally celebrates the day with corned beef and cabbage and knocking off of work early for some green beer."
While he helped organizations and causes financially when he could, O'Connor is also known for giving gentle advice, providing emotional support to all who knew him.
O'connor is inspiring others through his ALS diagnosis
Since he has been diagnosed with ALS in December of 2021, the community has rallied around him in the same way that O'Connor has supported everyone else, his wife, Sue, said. As ALS is a rare neurodegenerative disease, he is not able to walk or talk. But on the positive side, his mind is good, he can communicate by texting, and he is not in pain.
"It is just a horrible disease," Sue O'Connor said. She added it is hard to see him get worse, and knowing there is no cure and knowing what a talkative and active person he was. But she enjoys getting the mail, which contains many cards and letters that she reads to him all the time. Jim's former neighbor and retired teacher sends him a handwritten two-page letter every week.
"He was a very vibrant person with many friends," Sue O'Connor said. She said Jim was inspired by Lou Gehrig, whom the ALS disease is named after, based on how Gehrig adjusted to living the disease.
"He wants to do the same," his wife said. "It is exciting (to have a Jim O'Connor Day)."
Added Spiegelberg: "ALS is a horrific disease, but Jim has embraced it as a part of his lot in life. He believes you can let something defeat you or you can choose to use it to encourage others in their own struggles. He has a perpetually positive attitude and always has a smile on his face."
O'Connor has lived his life by the golden rule, daughter says
Jim O'Connor's daughter, Laura O'Connor Eimon, can't just tell you one crucial life lesson she learned from her father — there's too many to choose from.
"His stories, one-liners and advice are the absolute best," she explained. "My dad is very generous in many ways — not only financially, but with this time, sharing of wisdom and life lessons."
Some of the "life lessons" she learned from her father are to "take the high ground;" "do not ever judge someone — you don't know what goes on in the walls of that person's home;" "live your life by the golden rule and you'll do just fine;" and "treat others as you want to be treated."
Eimon said these one-liners also hold true for his business.
"The success of my dad's 50 years in the car business is not by accident. He earned the trust of his customers and standing behind what he sold. He always said, 'Do not allow a guest's concern to become a complaint,'" said Eimon.
"He has customers who have been purchasing vehicles from him for 40 years. He is a man that is true to his word," she said. When her father opened the Oconomowoc branch of his company 10 years ago, she said the best thing she did was to work for him.
"To work with my best friend everyday and learn the right way to do business has been an honor," she said.
She said she is flattered that her father will be honored this way.
"He is the most selfless person I know, and it is such an honor to see that the community recognizes that as well," she said. "To me, it shows how many people and organizations he has made an impact on."
More:What is St. Patrick's Day? Why do we celebrate it, and why do we wear green? What to know
Cathy Kozlowicz can be reached at 262-361-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kozlowicz_cathy.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Oconomowoc celebrates lifetime of resident on St. Patrick's Day 2023