When the Michigan Wolverines take on the University of Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday in Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills resident Ray Okonski will be watching – but not from his usual seat.
Okonski, 91, will be honored as “Veteran of the Game.” His day begins with a special tailgate in the Blue lot, he said, “where I’ve been parking for years.” A season ticket holder for almost six decades, he’ll enjoy the view from a special Michigan Stadium suite, and the recognition will happen around half-time in front of 110,000 fans.
This has been a big week for the World War II veteran. On Monday, he served as honorary grand marshal of the annual Polish Day Parade in his hometown of Hamtramck.
“I’ve had so many wonderful experiences lately,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky in my life. I’m just smiling.”
Okonski served for 15 months with the U.S. Army’s 78th Division, from 1944 to 1945, and was wounded in the last battle taking Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen, Germany. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he earned a Bachelors
degree in engineering and a Masters degree in business.
During his time on campus, Okonski said, he worked as a disc jockey for WUOM and with another student formed his first company, Campus Photographers. He went on to work for Michigan Wire Cloth Company and after five years was named its president. After several acquisitions, the company became part of United Technology, a Fortune 500 firm.
Business and technology played leading roles in Okonski’s career, and although he’s retired, he keeps a hand in both. He has been recognized as a “Senior Extraordinaire” by Farmington Public Schools for his support of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education and projects, and his latest venture has been the development of a powered platform lift, or “wheelchair escalator”, in conjunction with University of Detroit Mercy engineering students.
“I’ve got ten projects going,” Okonski said. “I’ve got more ideas than I can implement.”