The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the sudden death of WHOI Guest Investigator Steve Okkonen on April 6, 2023. He was 69.
Steve was born in Ann Arbor, MI, on August 30, 1953. He graduated from Sparta High School in 1971 and from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering . He met his wife, Joann Jackinsky, while enrolled in the education program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). They were married in 1978.
In 1993, Steve earned his PhD in Physical Oceanography at UAF. He was part of many oceanographic research projects and for the last 18 years he studied bowhead whales and their food sources near Utqiagvik, AK. Steve was a research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who maintained strong, productive, long-term collaborations with several WHOI research groups. Steve’s core expertise in physical oceanography, coupled with his interest in biology and his substantial regional knowledge of the Alaskan Arctic, were invaluable assets to numerous interdisciplinary studies with co-PIs from multiple WHOI departments. Steve enjoyed a 20+ year ongoing collaboration with Dr. Carin Ashjian, working together at the bowhead whale feeding hotspot near Pt. Barrow, AK, for 13 field seasons. This collaboration included numerous trips to the North Slope to communicate the science to local coastal communities, to study upwelling on the Beaufort Shelf, and to investigate early winter conditions in the Chukchi and Bering Seas. Steve served as co-Chief Scientist with Dr. Ashjian on the 2011 ‘winter’ cruise on USCGC Healy, the first late-fall/early-winter cruise by a US icebreaker to the Alaskan Arctic that involved numerous WHOI groups. Steve was also a key member of an ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration with Drs. Sam Laney, Krista Longnecker, and Ted Maksym along the coastal Beaufort shelf. Other WHOI collaborators include Phil Alatalo and Drs. Joel Llopiz, Mark Baumgartner, and Mei Sato. Steve’s contributions to WHOI research can be seen in the numerous scientific papers he published with WHOI coauthors, including one accepted just days before his death.
Steve’s contributions to ocean science touched more than just WHOI research staff. His aptitude as an educator and mentor were clearly evident when working with WHOI graduate students, both in the field and afterward to explore data and findings. Steve’s infectious brand of humor, coupled with his multiple interests and capabilities, made him the perfect shipmate, especially in the rugged Arctic.
Steve and Joann lived on Kalifonsky Beach, Kasilof, AK, where they raised their two children, son Eero and daughter Kaija. Steve was known for his curiosity, creativity, intellect, and quirky sense of humor. He will be deeply missed by all. Steve was preceded in death by his mother Monica Okkonen. He is survived by his father Oliver Okkonen of Grand Haven, MI; wife Joann Jackinsky, son Eero Okkonen, and daughter Kaija Okkonen, all of Kasilof; sisters Diana Snouffer, Laura Okkonen(Greg Latsch), Gail Dall’Olmo (Dan); brothers John Okkonen (Jamie) and Jeff Okkonen; as well as numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews
A farewell celebration for Steve will be held on May 7 at 1 p.m. at the Spring Lake Country Club in Spring Lake, Michigan. On May 20, there will be a goodbye party at Kalifonsky Beach. Donations in remembrance of Steve and his impact on ocean science and education can be made to a scholarship account set up at First National Bank of Alaska, 11407 Kenai Spur Hwy, Kenai, AK, 99611.
Information for this obituary is from Sam Laney and Legacy.com