February 9, 2023
GRAND LEDGE, Mich. - Paul Pozega, whose decades of coaching and mentorship had a positive influence on countless students and athletes in the Lansing region, died Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. He was 93.
Paul grew up in Bessemer and was proud to be the son of hard-working Croatian immigrant parents. Born on Oct. 2, 1929, he was the fifth of eight children born to Paul and Anna (Magdich) Pozega. His father, an iron ore miner, died when young Paul was just 10 years old, and so he developed a sense of purpose at an early age, working and supporting his family.
That sense of pride and purpose carried over to Paul's service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He served two tours of combat duty and was among the survivors of the brutal Chosin Reservoir campaign - the Chosin Few, as they have since been known - as a sergeant and member of the First Marine Division, 7th Infantry Regiment. He spoke always with respect and a deep understanding of the commitment he shared with his Marine colleagues, and was honored to have served his country in this way.
Paul married Marlys Maki, also of Bessemer, on Sept. 5, 1953. They had four children: David, who passed away as an infant; Joan Magness; Debra Osburn (Chaz); and Paul (Julie); and were blessed with eight grandchildren: Lindsay, Alison, Cherie (Nick), Jaclyn (Ryan), Krista, Anna, Jenna and David. They shared many wonderful family moments together: at holidays and during the summer, often in their beloved Upper Peninsula, and also day-to-day whenever Paul and Marlys could be with their grandkids; he never missed a chance to brag about them. Paul and Marlys were married for 65 years before she passed away in 2018, and he has missed her gentle presence every day since.
As a young man, Paul was a determined and talented athlete. He excelled in basketball and football for the Bessemer High School Speedboys, playing in the U.P. Football All-Star game in 1947, and being named captain of the 1946-47 basketball team that won the U.P. State Championship. He also played semipro baseball for the 1947 Bessemer Steelers baseball team.
Through the support of the GI Bill, Paul attended Michigan State University, earning his bachelor's degree in 1956 and later earning his master's degree at MSU. He began his teaching and coaching career at Lansing St. Mary's High School, where, in addition to coaching football and basketball, he formed the school's first track team, outfitting the squad in castoff basketball uniforms and, as was always the case, expecting only the best from them despite their humble start. Just a few years later, in 1962, the team won the Class C state championship. He went on to teach and coach at O'Rafferty High School before joining the staff at Lansing's J.W. Sexton High. He coached the Big Reds boys' track team to State Class A championships in 1986 and 1987, and they were runners-up in 1991. Many of his athletes were individual conference, regional and state champs, as well.
Paul was twice named Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association (MITCA) Class A Coach of the Year, was named National Track Coach of the Year, and was inducted into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. He was one of the founders of the Honor Roll Meet of Champions, which annually brings together the top track and field athletes from throughout mid-Michigan, and received the Eddy Award in 1993 for his leadership in the sports community.
Paul later joined the coaching staff at Michigan State University, coaching sprinters and hurdlers for the Spartan track team. He appreciated the many athletes who stayed in touch with him over the years.
Paul was preceded in death by his siblings John, Rose, Mary, Katherine and Robert.
Visitation is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m., at Holihan-Atkin-Barclay Funeral Home at 406 N. Bridge St. in Grand Ledge. Interment with military honors will be later this spring at Hillcrest Cemetery in Bessemer.
Share your memories and condolences online at holihanatkin.com.