Funeral Arrangements: Funeral services for Michael Okura will be at the Christs Church of the Valley (CCV) in San Dimas on January 28 at 10 a.m. A reception will follow at Christ First Baptist Church in Covina. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to the new Mike Okura scholarship fund for student-athletes.
Okura was a teacher and coach at West Covina for more than four decades. After graduating from West Covina in 1963, Okura went to UCLA and finished his bachelor’s degree in English at Linfield College, where he starred in baseball and football.
After graduating from Linfield in 1968, he became an English teacher at West Covina and never left – later earning a master’s degree at Azusa Pacific.
Okura coached varsity baseball for more than a decade in the 1970s and 80s and won two Sierra League titles. He coached one of West Covina’s all-time greats, Tom Brunansky, who spent 14 years in the major leagues.
Okura also was a longtime assistant football coach and served on the staff of popular head football coach Tim Brancheau for more than two decades, and continued as an assistant football coach through the mid-90s. Okura also coached wrestling and basketball, and was a highly regarded teacher.
“He was the most righteous man I’ve ever known,” said Brancheau, who is not coaching football but is still West Covina’s track and field coach. Brancheau has been coaching track for more than 50 years.
“He was a good, good man and the most loyal assistant I ever had,” Brancheau said of Okura. “What I’ll remember most is I never heard a kid or another coach say a negative word about him. He was adored by his students and athletes.”
Okura was semi-retired when he passed. He still taught an AP English class at West Covina.
“I was fortunate to coach a couple girls in track who were in his (Okura’s) College Prep English class,” Brancheau said. “They thought the world of him and earned scholarships. He was a great coach and probably an even greater teacher. That and his personality is what made him so unique.”
Longtime West Covina coach and teacher Jeff Platt knew Okura well. Platt started teaching at West Covina soon after Okura arrived and is still there. Platt plans on retiring at the end of the school year.
“It was a very sad day (Tuesday),” Platt said. “Everyone was just down. Mike was one of those guys who knew everybody. He took time out to know everybody.
“I’ve been here 39 years and in the 39 years he was the most popular teacher in the school to both the teachers and students. He just had a way with people.”
Okura is survived by his wife Diane Lilly Okura, daughters Lyndie Lorenger and Janelle Baker, and four grandchildren.
West Covina baseball coach and teacher Drew Lorenger became part of Okura’s family when he married his daughter Lyndie.
“The entire campus at West Covina is in a state of shock and depressed,” Lorenger said. “Everyone knew and loved Mike, he was a renaissance man.
“He did so many things for our school that you can’t just pin it to one thing. He was a great coach, mentor and one of the best teachers we’ve ever had.”
Lorenger said Okura had a recent history of heart problems and likely passed away from heart failure.
“He’s had heart problems since he was 43,” Lorenger said. “He had numerous close calls and surgeries. We knew his health was weak but he’s been so resilient over the years that it was still a shock.”
Lorenger grew especially close to Okura since meeting his wife Lyndie.
“I knew Mike as a friend before I met and married his daughter,” Lorenger said. “From the first time I met him at West Covina I knew he was a legend and it was an honor to be part of his family.
“Former students and athletes always sought him out and I had the opportunity to coach with him on a freshman (baseball) team a few years back. He talked to the freshmen like they were grown men. It made a great impression on me and I got to see how he inspired kids.”
Okura was no pushover either, explained Platt.
“The only people Mike ever had problems with his entire life were referees and umpires,” Platt joked. “You talk to some of the old officials, they will all tell you about it. Mike would get at it, he was a passionate coach on the sidelines and in the dugout.”
As a defensive coach, he also made an impression on former player Greg Gano, now the head football coach at Damien. Okura also coached Rowland football coach Craig Snyder.
“He was a great person who loved coaching and loved kids, that much was obvious,” Gano said. “He was our defensive backs coach when I was a quarterback and Tom Peterssen was a wide receiver. We used to mess up his DB drills and he would kick us out. But we still had a great relationship with him, that’s the kind of coach he was. He knew when to be serious and when it should be fun.”
Lorenger said funeral plans are pending.
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