John Obara, an adjunct engineering professor, died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident Tuesday. He had two children: Christopher, 20, who is a freshman at the University of Florida, and Natasha, 16.
Obara, 46, earned his master’s in engineering from USF in 1997 and his bachelor’s in computer engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio – but more importantly, Obara was a brilliant lecturer whose ability to relate to his class made him a favorite among USF students.
“I was in his Light and Art class,” said Manny Mayor, a sophomore majoring in biomedical science. “He would go over stories of his past, so we were never bored. He told us about how he was No. 1 in badminton in Florida. He would always be smiling and always telling little jokes.”
Steven Brown was a teaching assistant for Obara and will be taking over Obara’s courses for the rest of the semester.
“He was the type of guy who was very sociable, very likeable,” Brown said. “He would talk about something, then before you know it he would be off on some tangent, telling a story. A story about places he’s been, things he’s done.”
Brown said Obara would tell stories about things such as “snipers on a bridge” and “a magnetized laser pointer.”
His lecture style made him a hit among students.
“I think he was the most effective and popular teacher in the department,” said professor Dave Snider, whom Obara was working with for his doctoral dissertation.
After Snider retired, he turned over the teaching of a new course called Light and Art to Obara. Afterward, the enrollment in the class went from 60 students to 140.
John’s wife Marla called teaching his gift.
“He loved teaching, that was definitely his gift,” Marla said. “He loved getting students excited about learning.”
Paris Wiley, associate chair of the electrical engineering department, also remembered Obara’s penchant for teaching.
“In every one, he’d take a class that people hated and he’d get the students enthused about it,” Wiley said. “He loved the students, and the students loved him.”
Wiley also had the tough task of delivering the news to Obara’s students.
“I went to his class (Tuesday). I mean, the students – several of them just burst into tears,” Wiley said. “They loved him, and that was their first exposure to him.”
Obara was scheduled to complete his doctoral project this semester. Wiley said the department is looking into awarding Obara his doctorate posthumously.
Brown said it was his diverse background that helped Obara relate to his students.
According to Marla, John was a coach for the U.S. Olympic badminton team and at one time was ranked as seventh in the country as a badminton player.
But according to Snider, Obara should be remembered for what he did for USF students.
“In the course of being a teaching assistant and an adjunct professor at USF, he probably educated and inspired close to 1,000 undergraduate engineers,” Snider said. “That, in itself, is a career accomplishment which would make anybody proud.”
Two viewings are scheduled for today from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Faupel Funeral Home, 1555 Windmill Pointe Rd. Palm Harbor, FL 34685.
The memorial service will be at the Lutheran Church of Resurrection, 75211 Ridge Rd. Port Richey, FL 34668 on Saturday at 1 p.m.