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St. Louis County Commissioner Steve O’Neil remembered as advocate for the needy

O’Neil died Tuesday after a battle with cancer.

Steve O’Neil, a St. Louis County commissioner known for his efforts to help the homeless and the poor, died of cancer Tuesday in Duluth. He was 63.

After getting his master’s degree at UMD in the 1970s, O’Neil  helped form  Minnesota COACT, an advocacy group, said the Duluth News Tribune. He later helped form Duluth’s Loaves and Fishes Community.

While working as a community organizer, he became good friends with Paul Wellstone and spoke in Wellstone’s classroom at Carleton College.

O’Neil was first elected to the county board in 2005.

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The paper said O’Neil waited until after last November’s election, when he won a third term on the county board, to begin treatment for prostate cancer. After surgery in December, he appeared to improve, but then was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer in the spring.

Liz Kuoppala, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, said of O’Neil:

“In the final days of the 2013 legislative session, when cancer made it hard for Steve to speak, he insisted that he still had his advocacy voice. He urged lawmakers, through email, to invest in housing options for low-income Minnesotans. He was a tireless advocate for the poor and homeless. He used his position to make things better for the less fortunate. Steve was optimistic that we can do better as a state.”

In January, O’Neil wrote in a commentary for the Duluth paper:

“Each of us can reach out to family, neighbors, friends and even strangers who appear to need support or a kind word.

I’ve been struck many times with homeless people who tell me they once had siblings, family members and friends who cared about them. Each of us can think of someone who could use a call, visit or note. Each of us can contact our federal, state and local officials on this issue. Let’s work together to make our community a more caring place in 2013.”

The paper says: Visitation will be Saturday evening in Peace United Church of Christ. His funeral is Sunday afternoon at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.