John A. Stella

John A. Stella

May 14, 1935 – December 1, 2023

Preceded in death by parents, Michael and Grace, and brother, Paul.  Survived by brother, Mick (Char); sister-in-law Marie; children: Tony (Lori), Chris (Tony), John (Cindy), and Joe (Kris); grandchildren: Dustin, Shannon, Matt, AJ, Sammi, Joey, and Rocco; seven great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

VISITATION: Friday, December 8th from 4pm to 8pm at the West Center Chapel.  MASS OF CHRISTIAN BURIAL: Saturday, December 9th at 10am at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, 1248 S. 10th St.  Interment, Calvary Cemetery with Military Honors.  In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Sons of Italy.

To view live broadcasts of the services, please visit www.heafeyheafey.com and click the “Live Cast” button at the top of the home page.

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John Stella Sr. was born to first-generation Italian immigrants in 1935. His parents had moved to Omaha in 1932 shortly after meeting in Chicago following their immigration to the United States. He was born in a small house at 22nd and Poppleton Street, weighing just two and a half pounds. He says the only reason he survived such a small birth weight was his quick introduction to spaghetti.

The middle child of three boys, he grew up in a home shared with his grandparents on his mother’s side. Although his parents were strict, he enjoyed playing all kinds of sports with the other kids in his neighborhood. He was recruited by Creighton and signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants for a short time. He said often that his progress to the majors was blocked by some guy named Willie Mays. No doubt, he said, the Giants made a mistake in going with Mays.

John lived his whole life in South Omaha and was known for his dedication and leadership to the community. After attending Omaha University, he served in the United States Army Reserves and worked as a postman and baseball coach for South High for more than 30 years. He was very proud of his baseball teams and his players. In 2009, the field at Brown Park was named John Stella Field in recognition of his years of service coaching baseball. He was inducted into multiple Omaha and Nebraska Halls of Fame.

Even with all the Italian culture that surrounded him, John never learned to speak Italian and wished that the language had been featured more prominently in his childhood. Regardless, being a second-generation Italian American was still a salient identity for him. Particularly, being an Italian American in Omaha was a crucial part of his story. He was a member of three major Italian American organizations in Omaha: the Sons of Italy, the Santa Lucia Festival Committee, and the American Italian Heritage Society.  Three times, he was named “Italian American of the Year” by the Sons of Italy organization.   Further, in 2014 he was named the “Honorary President” of the Santa Lucia Festival.

John knew all the best Italian restaurants in Omaha, the names of families who continued to live in Omaha following their immigration from Italy, and the best pasta sauce recipe. It was impossible to go anywhere with him without running into someone he knew, especially ex-players. Many have said he was like a father to them and they don’t know where they would be now without him.

They all still called him coach.

 

15 Comments

  • Tony Perrone Posted December 3, 2023 10:25 am

    Although I was quite a bit younger than John, he was an icon in the neighborhood. He and his entire family were very appreciated by all. As I grew older, I got to know John better, including living in the same apartment complex. I found what a wonderful man he was and learned to appreciate him even more. I am so sorry to see the passing of such a lovely man. My sincere condolences.

  • Jim collin Posted December 3, 2023 12:47 pm

    John was very good friend, would eat breakfast and go to Sons of Italy together manly just to talk, was a tremendous pleasure to be with John. He will truly be must. He is now in Gods Big League.

  • Michael Klein Posted December 4, 2023 12:23 am

    I am saddened to hear of John’s passing. I only ever attended a baseball game at Omaha South once, but it while he was still in charge of operations, even though he was not coaching anymore. John went out of his way to make Omaha a great place for all, and created a very welcoming atmosphere at Brown Park. It was honor to meet him at that game and learn his life story. He will be dearly missed.

  • Bill Williams Posted December 4, 2023 9:53 am

    Wonderful man, proud American, a Patriot. A pleasure to know him.

  • Rose Mary Reyes Posted December 4, 2023 2:39 pm

    John you were a wonderful Coach and always willing to be there for our South Omaha Young men who aspired to be Baseball players! You always would tell me you have the article of Jesse in Grand Island! I saw you at the Ceremony last May 2023 and I got to take a picture with you! My sons looked up to you and again Thank You for being there for my sons!!!! May you rest in peace! Love you ! Rose Mary and Tom Reyes

  • Glenn and Michele Novotny Posted December 6, 2023 9:18 pm

    Tony, Lori, Dustin and Shannon….so sorry to hear of John’s passing. He was a great man who will be dearly missed. Sending love and prayers. Glenn and Michele

  • Mary Mayo Posted December 6, 2023 11:02 pm

    My heartfelt sympathy to the Stella family.

  • Tim Blankenship Posted December 7, 2023 11:18 am

    John was my neighborhood mailman. He took me to my first big league ballgame in Kansas City. He introduced me to Chuck Mangione by gifting my Mom one of his albums. Those two acts changed the course of my life. Years later, I got to deliver to him. I lived down the street from him and was his OWH paperboy. It was always nice to spend a few extra minutes at his apartment, just to visit. I left South Omaha many years ago. Yet, I always remembered the mustachioed man with the big smile and even bigger heart. John was transcendent. Enjoy your eternity on the Big Diamond in the Sky, Rest Easy, My Friend.

  • Bob Mancuso Jr Posted December 7, 2023 1:05 pm

    John was one of the good ones! A friend to all!! Loved the Yankees, being Italian, baseball, playing and coaching! He truly is an icon in Omaha sports scene! He will be missed! But is now playing the greatest game in heaven!

  • Sandie & Scott Knudsen Posted December 7, 2023 2:18 pm

    Beyond a doubt John Stella led an exemplary life. He was rich with friends and admirers. He was kind and generous and always, always, greeted you with a warm smile. John was a living legend to his heritage and all of South Omaha. He will live in in our hearts and minds forever. Rest in Peace John. You will be missed but never forgotten.

  • Joy Lynn Willmore Posted December 7, 2023 10:14 pm

    I just saw a news story about John’s passing and was immediately sad. But also grateful to have met and had a conversation with him this past summer during Legion baseball season. It won’t be the same not seeing him down at the ballpark, but his presence will forever be there.

    My condolences to his family, bot his immediate family and his baseball family.

  • Randi Lukasiewicz Posted December 8, 2023 10:44 am

    I’m sure Yogi Berra won’t be at Coach’s funeral because I know John didn’t make it to his.

    Yogi was right as it is just De ja vue all over again!

    Remember some years ago the WWJD craze regarding What Would Jesus Do? Well, go dig out your old t-shirt and bumper sticker as nothing has changed, except the name:
    WWJD…What Would JOHN Do?

    The Bible, it’s all about baseball as it start out…In the BIG INNING!

    And in John 1..there was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to the light, so that all might believe.

    You know, Stella is of Latin and Italian origin meaning star and hence his license plate …STELLAR.

    Love ya coach…You were our All-Star!

  • Alex Wize Posted December 8, 2023 7:00 pm

    Rest in peace to Coach Stella. Your impact on my life just like many others was positive and course changing. I can say that after you handed me the MVP Trophy of your tournament back in 2017 that I have gotten one since. A hometown baseball legend handing me an award was surreal. I don’t want another person to hand me one again because that moment holds a special place in myself and my family’s hearts. I will miss talking to you at Brown Park whenever I found myself in your neck of the woods even though I know you are and always will be there in spirit. Fly high legend.

  • Stacey LaPoint Posted December 9, 2023 7:26 am

    Another Angel! He was like a Father to me and will be missed!

  • Jeanne Schramm Posted December 9, 2023 10:48 am

    It is so very hard when we lose someone who has done so many good things during their lifetime. I am honored to be able to call Coach a friend. Our paths crossed many years ago when John Jr and Joe played at Grover LL. Little did I know what an impact Coach would have on me and my love of the game. I will miss seeing that smile on your face and talking baseball with you. I am not sure there is anyone who had an impact on all lives, young and old like you did Coach. God broke the mold when he created you. “Let’s play ball.”

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