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Edward M. Okonowicz Jr.

In Memoriam: Edward Okonowicz

Photo courtesy of the Okonowicz family

Community remembers long-time editor, author, storyteller

Edward M. Okonowicz Jr., long-time writer and editor at the University of Delaware, prolific author and popular storyteller, died March 11. He was 76.

Mr. Okonowicz, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in communication, both at UD, joined the University staff in 1981, first in the Office of Alumni Relations and later in the Office of Public Relations, now the Office of Communications and Marketing (OCM). In OCM, he served for many years as the editor of UpDate, a weekly campus print newspaper that preceded UDaily. He retired from that post in 2002.

His connections to UD did not end with retirement. From 2002 to 2016, Mr. Okonowicz taught several UD courses in folklore, storytelling, communication and writing. A noted storyteller, he presented popular walking tours exploring UD’s history and tales of campus ghosts at many events, including Alumni Forums and Reunion Weekends. He also spoke to many campus groups, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Mr. Okonowicz had a deep appreciation of regional history, and he was particularly interested in tales of ghosts and the supernatural. In addition to his campus appearances, he presented a number of programs throughout the mid-Atlantic region. A member of the Delaware Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau and Visiting Scholars Program and the Maryland Humanities Council Speakers Bureau, he also served on the Maryland State Arts Council Traditional/Folk Arts Advisory Panel.

He was also the author of more than 20 books, from biographies and oral histories to short-story collections to murder mystery novels set in the fictional state of DelMarVa.

In recalling Mr. Okonowicz’ impact, John F. Jebb, associate professor of English, said, “Ed and his writers made UpDate into a venue for professional in-house journalism. He had a good sense of what feature stories and profiles would be widely interesting for UD readers. The features in UpDate helped younger faculty gain recognition, and I was among those who benefited.

“Through the years, I would see Ed practicing his avocations,” Jebb said. “He keynoted a gathering of University and high school writing teachers with a discussion of folklore and story creation. He led a student group interested in mysteries on a tour of a local graveyard, offering comments both practical – why modern gravestones are flat – and macabre – what some old gravestone decorations suggested. He offered a lowkey demeanor at these events, letting the material make the impressions. He was generous with his time and always kind to the groups. In his quiet way, he showed that he loved these events.

“Ed mined local history for his own writing: many novels about Delmarva’s heritage and books about famous events and supernatural occurrences in the region. For a series of books about local mayhem, Ed wrote True Crime: Maryland, one of the best researched books in the series. When I planned for a book in the series, Ed cheerfully offered advice that was practical, pointed and amusing,” Jebb said.

“I had the distinct privilege of working closely with Ed over the years,” said John Brennan, assistant vice president and senior adviser in the Office of Communications and Marketing. “A loyal Blue Hen alumnus, he enjoyed highlighting campus achievements, and he was a great editor, always available to help writers shape their stories, whether they were seasoned professionals or student interns. At the same time, he handily met the demands and deadlines imposed by production of a weekly print newspaper, while also maintaining his singular sense of humor. He will be missed.”

To read Mr. Okonowicz’ obituary, visit Hicks Home for Funerals.

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