By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Like many other teachers, Nate O’Connell is dealing with the reality digital learning has become the norm for now, especially since Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered all school buildings to be closed for the duration of the school year.
O’Connell, a 1997 graduate of Warsaw Community High School, teaches math and the Power Up! class for Wawasee High School. But his path to becoming a school teacher wasn’t as straight as it has been for some.
A basketball and baseball player at Warsaw, he went on to attend what was then Tri State University where he was an electrical engineering major and a walk on for the basketball team. After graduating from college in 2001, he accepted a position with Guardian Industries as a process engineer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He had served two internships with Guardian prior to accepting the full-time position.
After two years in the Sunshine State, O’Connell decided to come back home and help with the Pizza King restaurants owned by his father, Patrick O’Connell. Patrick had purchased the Syracuse Pizza King in 1999 and then the North Webster Pizza King in 2001.
It was originally intended to be a “temporary” job. “I helped to expand the franchise and it ended up being seven years,” he said. “I helped run seven stores,” and eventually purchased his grandmother’s stock to become a small owner.
At this time, O’Connell started coaching freshman basketball for Phil Mishler at Wawasee High School.
“They had an opening, so I tried it and fell in love with it,” he said. Enough so he decided to get a teaching license through the transition to teaching program at IPFW. He was a math teacher and coach at Wawasee for three years, then left to return to Warsaw where he taught and coached JV basketball also for three years.
Then Jon Everingham, a college teammate and good friend, asked O’Connell to return to Wawasee to help. “It sounded like a good opportunity,” O’Connell said, noting Everingham also shared a vision he had for starting an electronics program at Wawasee, which intrigued O’Connell.
He returned to Wawasee for the 2017-18 school year where he teaches math at the high school, implemented the Power Up! electronics program and is an assistant varsity basketball coach.
“I like working with kids and the impact you have on kids,” he said. “I can be a role model and try to give something back. It is very satisfying.”
Nathan’s father still owns six Pizza King restaurants: one each in Syracuse, North Webster, Silver Lake and Columbia City and two in Warsaw. “I still help just a little,” Nathan said.
Nathan is married to Mandy (Pearson), a Wawasee graduate, and they have two sons: Nolan, 5, and Bryson, 3. Golf is a hobby for Nathan and summers are often spent playing outside with the boys.
The family attends Warsaw Community Church.