SOUTH PORTLAND — A memorial service Friday will honor the life of Steven M. Onos, a former School Board member who died suddenly Feb. 3.
Onos, 47, served on the School Board from 2001 to 2007, including terms as chairman and vice chairman. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the City Council in 2008.
But Onos’ public service was a small part of what he contributed to his family and community, according to family and friends.
“He loved his kids, loved his kids’ friends and they knew it,” said his sister, Kathy DiPhilippo.
Onos and his wife, the former Connie DiPierro, were married for 23 years and raised three children. His son, Isaak, and daughters Abigail and Sydney were the focal point of his life, DiPhilippo said.
“He was so proud of his kids, he was a family guy,” she said.
Neighbor and friend Don Russell agreed. He said he met Onos because their daughters were friends, and the friendship grew largely because Onos was open-hearted and generous with his time and emotions.
“Steve had a lot of friends; I felt privileged to be one among them,” Russell said. “He loved people, it was obvious in how they gravitated to him.”
Born in Lynn, Mass., Onos was in fourth grade when his family moved to South Portland. His father, Gerard Onos, was a Methodist minister, and when he was reassigned to a church in Cumberland, DiPhilippo said her brother was adamant about continuing to live in South Portland.
At South Portland High School, Onos played football and basketball.
“He was like a powerhouse. If you ever need to move something heavy, call Steve,” DiPhilippo said.
Most important, Onos met his wife in high school.
“He and Connie have been together forever, they just love each other so much,” DiPhilippo said.
Onos was not just capable of heavy work, he was eager to do it for anyone, Russell recalled.
“It wasn’t just a friend helping a friend. There are people who give, and the people who enjoy the passion beyond giving,” he said.
The passion for ensuring good schools for his and other children led Onos to work for new city elementary schools more than a decade ago. The efforts eventually got him elected to the School Board, where he served two terms.
“He was instrumental in the entire elementary school reconstruction project,” Russell said.
School Board Chairman Rick Carter was first elected during Onos’ tenure, and said what he learned from him still resonates.
“He was a teacher and mentor when I was new to the board. He was a very intelligent, classy individual,” Carter said.
Carter said every decision Onos made was based on the best interests of children, and he carried a soft-spoken, calm demeanor through the toughest debates and issues.
With his strong sense of humor and affability, DiPhilippo said her brother was also imbued with a drive to excel at anything he did.
“He was always working on stuff, he could never sit still. When he set his mind to do something, he would do it really well,” she recalled.
Russell said he could be counted on for advice and assistance whether it was woodworking, electrical repairs or maintaining their pools.
DiPhilippo said her brother was complaining of back and leg pain last Sunday before he collapsed and died. The precise cause of his death will not be known until autopsy results are revealed, but the shock of his death was heightened because he kept a healthy lifestyle.
“He had so much vitality and energy,” she said.
Friday’s memorial service is at 11 a.m. at First Congregational Church, 301 Cottage Road.
Steven Onos, in a 2008 file photo.