CMR favorite Pat O’Connell shares his love for photography

For Patrick O’Connell, it was boredom that created a passion that would last a lifetime.

“When I was in Vietnam, there wasn’t a lot to do. You could chase girls or you could do drugs or you could get drunk, but since I didn’t do any of those things, I bought myself a camera and I would just go out on the base or in the jungle and take pictures,” he said.

O’Connell was stationed in Long Bein, Vietnam for 364 days with the Army, and in that time he developed a passion for his favorite pastime.

“One day I walked into the PX; they had two different kinds,” he said. “I knew nothing about either one except they were cheap. I asked the clerk and he said he would recommend a Canon so I bought a Canon camera and a couple lenses. To this very day, I’m stuck with Canon because when I bought new lenses they had to match the body and when I bought a new body it had to match the lenses. That’s how they get ya.”

O’Connell is a volunteer photographer for many of CMR’s events.

“My wife’s a teacher—or was a teacher—at Meadowlark Elementary, so a bunch of Meadowlark teachers were going to go hiking in Glacier Park with their husbands. I went along and brought my camera,” O’Connell said. “I was taking pictures of anything I thought I would want to take a picture of and one of the teacher’s husbands says ‘why don’t you come down and join me in the fall and take pictures?’ To which I said no and he said yes. Then I realized you don’t say no to Jack Johnson.”

33 years later, O’Connell is still taking pictures for CMR, and his wife, Claudia, is along for the ride.

“Anything that fits into my schedule, which is pretty open,” he said. “She accompanies me a lot, not so much with sports, but unless she’s with a friend, she’ll come and sit in the stands while I’m down on the field, doing what Pat does.”

 According to O’Connell, he takes photos at about 80 percent of CMR activities, including drama, High School House, choir and, of course, sports.

“I like the creativity of [photography]. I thoroughly like the kids. I like being around the kids and I think some of the kids like me, one or two,” he said.

In addition to the events he photographs, O’Connell encourages  students to stop by his home on Prom night in order to get their pictures taken.

“It was probably in the mid 80’s. I was the Youth Minister at Saint Luke’s Catholic Church and some of my kids were going to Prom,” he said. “They knew I took pictures. They asked if they could come over and get their pictures taken. So, how could I say you good Catholic kids can come in but you Lutheran kids have to sit in the car? I couldn’t, and kids just started coming.”

O’Connell has and always will be a key part of CMR’s heritage. In fact, his name is on the bulletin board in the Commons: the  Pat and Claudia O’Connell Photo Gallery.

According to O’Connell, the board was a surprise.

“One day, I was on one of my daily walks into the school and these kids said ‘hey you have to come see this! It’s cool!,” he said. “I said ‘wow’ then the one thought that came to my mind, of which I was very pleased was that it didn’t say memorial so I knew I was still alive.”

O’Connell still doesn’t know, for sure, who set up the board, but he said “It was a wonderful, great honor.”

It also is a way for him and his wife to work together.

“I take the pictures. She puts them on the bulletin board. She’s much more talented at that than I am after being a third grade teacher for 31 years,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell enjoys his time at CMR and the opportunities it has brought him.

“What I want to say, basically, is that I do this because maybe I’m selfish and I enjoy being around the kids, but also because the camera to me, in ways, it’s like a key. The camera opens doors that I couldn’t get into otherwise,” he said. “I’m very comfortable at CMR.”