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.
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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.