Former West Covina coach and teaching legend Michael Okura passed away on Tuesday

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.

Story: Students, teachers, family and friends are mourning the death of West Covina High School’s legendary teacher and coach Michael Okura, who passed away at his home on Tuesday. He was 66.

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.

fred.robledo@sgvn.com

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  • WCHS Class of 1985

    For those of us that knew, played for our learned under Coach O, it is a sad day indeed. Coach was a great coach, teacher and molder of me. He cared deeply for all of his students and players and you could tell by the huge smile that he gave willingly and with regularity. He was well loved and while he passed too early, I know that he lived a great life and was deeply loved by his wife, two daughters and all the students, players and colleagues with whom he came into contact.

    RIP Coach O!

  • Edward R. Robusto

    I had the distinct pleasure of calling Mike Okura teacher, friend, coach and mentor.

    I won 2 Sierra League Championships in baseball with him then returned to coach for him after graduation. He was passionate about sport, but more passionate about his students, and athletes.

    He and Tim Brancheau, both old-school, gladly stepped into the void created when both parents had to work to provide for their families; they became surrogate brothers, uncles and in some cases fathers, doing it without hesitation and without asking. They provided a knowing glance, a pat on the back, a kind word, an old fashioned *@$ chewing, or whatever else was required to keep their student-athletes on the straight and narrow, their path to graduation, college or the world in general. Sometimes it worked; sometimes we strayed. But they always remained loyal and dedicated to their students.

    All one needs to do is compile a list of notable graduates and coaches to see the impact that Mike has had on the West Covina Community and the San Gabriel Valley; Tom Brunansky, Craig Snyder, Rick Ammentorp, Tim Ammentorp, Bob Mount, Greg Gano and many many more.

    In my opinion he was the last connection between the original Spartans and the new Bull Dogs; he kept the old traditions alive and helped to foster in the new; the sports hall of fame comes to mind.

    I will miss my friend but know that his spirit will remain in every person who had the unique opportunity to call him coach, teacher or friend.

    RIP MTO!

    With Great Love Eddie

  • Laurie Hanson Wray

    If you went to WCHS, Coach Okura had a positive influence on you, whether you were an athlete or not, female or male, that’s just how it was. He will be missed by so many, but not forgotten. LHW ’73

  • MIKE URRUTIA 1975

    COACH OKURA WAS MY ALLTIME FAVORITE COACH. HE GAVE ME A CHANCE IN MY SENIOR YEAR AND IT PAID OFF FOR BOTH OF US. HE WAS A VERY POSITVE MAN. DID NOT REALIZE HOW YOUNG HE WAS….. THANKS AGAIN COACH