Walter J. (“Sonny”) O’Kula of Riverhead died on April 2, 2020 at Kanas Center for Hospice Care in Quiogue. He was 73 years old.
He was born on Jan. 2, 1947 in Greenport to Rose (Danowski) and Zygmunt O’Kula. He served in the U.S. Army in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1968 to 1972. He and his father owned and operated O’Kula’s Welding. He then worked as an equipment operator at the Riverhead landfill and then the Riverhead Highway Department, from which he retired.
Sonny gained celebrity status in September 1994 when working alone at the Riverhead garbage transfer station he found $16,000 in cash and checks wrapped in rubber bands that had been accidentally thrown out by the campus bookstore at Suffolk County Community College Eastern Campus. He turned in the money. He was honored for his honesty by the Town of Riverhead and the County of Suffolk and was given the “Honest Person Award” by the National Enquirer. As was noted in a newspaper story at the time, “For his honesty, he’s surely won a place in Heaven and in the hearts of many whose faith he has restored.”
He is survived by his wife Barbara, children Christopher, Jeffrey and Laura and sisters Dortohy Lukaszcyk and Roseanne Tyska and nieces and nephews.
Cremation was private. Arrangements were entrusted to the care of McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead.