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Beloved York County teacher, pastor, Winthrop mentor killed in head-on crash

John O’Kain, associate pastor for campus and young adults at Oakland Presbyterian Church, plays guitar during A Good Friday Journey at Winthrop University sponsored by Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries Friday. __Photo by Andy Burriss
John O’Kain, associate pastor for campus and young adults at Oakland Presbyterian Church, plays guitar during A Good Friday Journey at Winthrop University sponsored by Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries Friday. __Photo by Andy Burriss aburriss@heraldonline.com

The Rev. John O’Kain, who was killed in a York car crash Tuesday, was remembered as a compassionate teacher and pastor who cared for all people.

O’Kain, 45, was a longtime mentor to Winthrop University students as the leader of the college’s Presbyterian campus ministry.

He was a science teacher at York Comprehensive High School, in his first year teaching, said Tim Cooper, spokesman for the York school district.

Cooper said the school community is grieving and counselors are available for students and staff who need assistance.

He also was on staff at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church for years, and then joined the staff at Clover Presbyterian Church, said longtime friend and colleague Rev. Sam McGregor of Allison Creek Presbyterian Church.

“John was a gentle and caring soul,” McGregor said. “He cared for so many lives, and was a good friend with a wonderful sense of humor. He was such a blessing to so many all across York County in all that he did. He will be missed.”

Christian pastors from area churches visited Holy Islamville in western York County to not only learn more about the Muslim community, but to celebrate the common traits each religion embraces. Islamville leaders say a frequent misconception is th

He was killed when a truck that was trying to pass a York school district bus hit O’Kain’s car head-on around 6:20 a.m. Tuesday, South Carolina highway patrol troopers and the York County Coroner’s Office said.

The truck wreck sideswiped the bus. No students were on the bus and the driver and bus monitor were not hurt. The driver of the other vehicle was injured.

O’Kain spent years working to unite people through faith.

He was part of a group of Christian pastors who set up ecumenical meals and meetings with York County’s Muslim residents from Holy Islamville near York to foster a community of inclusiveness.

“Instead of the Muslims of Islamville, it will be my friends at Islamville,” O’Kain said at a 2015 gathering of Christian and Muslims.

O’Kain started a Good Friday journey on the Winthrop campus in 2012 that brought students and Rock Hill residents together to share fellowship and faith. The journey was open to the public.

“This day, this holy week, is a time for people to come together,” O’Kain said on Good Friday in 2012. “We can make this special. This is for the community, any and all.”

O’Kain was formerly associate pastor for the college ministry at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian and was devoted to Winthrop and its students, officials said. He received a masters degree in secondary biology from the school in 2018.

The college ministry is devastated by the loss of O’Kain, Winthrop officials said.

Douglass Key, pastor at Clover Presbyterian Church, praised O’Kain as a man of grace and caring.

“I loved and rejoiced in the spirit of this man,” Key wrote on Facebook after O’Kain’s death. “He was a friend and colleague and follower of Jesus. There will only ever be one John O’Kain. He made us all better people.”

The O’Kain family lives in York.

O’Kain’s wife is a teacher in the Clover school district, said Bryan Dillon, spokesman for Clover schools.

Funeral arrangements remain pending. Check back for updates on this story.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.

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