Wesley Homes photo
Hal and Maxi Okanovic show their U.S. citizenship certificates.

Road for Okanovics paved with tragedies, triumphs and blessings

By Steve Whitaker
SPECIAL TO THE HIGHLINE TIMES

Love of family and passion for their work are what Hal and Maxi Okanovic bring to the Wesley Homes Des Moines campus every day.

Hal and Maxi go out of their way to provide exceptional customer service to all residents and staff members. Hal is head of Security and Maintenance, and Maxi is Laundry/Housekeeping coordinator.

The Okanovics’ path to Wesley Homes has had its fair number of tragedies, victories and blessings. They have persevered through it all.

Hal and Maxi are native to Bosnia. Before the break-up of the Soviet states, Bosnia made up what was northern Yugoslavia. Hal lived in Germany for a while but moved back to Yugoslavia to finish high school.

After Hal graduated, he performed his required military service of 15 months by serving in the Yugoslavian Navy. Maxi also lived in Yugoslavia (Bosnia). These two have known each other for 50 years.

As a matter of fact, they have been happily married for over 30 years.

Hal had to temporarily return to Germany to find work because there were no jobs in war-torn Bosnia. Luckily, he had an uncle who lived in Germany that assisted him in finding employment.

During this time, Maxi was back in Bosnia with their two boys. Food and water were extremely hard to come by.

A sort of wake-up call occurred when two rocket-propelled grenades struck their house. The grenades did a tremendous amount of damage. The attack was a sign that it was time to leave the country.

Hal and Maxi left the war and destruction and moved to the United States on September 21, 1997. Their first touch of American soil was in San Francisco, where Hal immediately purchased an American flag and a cowboy hat.

He recalls always being intrigued by the USA and loving the look of the American flag.

But things were not all rosy for the Okanovics. Maxi was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a month of their arrival in the USA, Maxi had surgery.

Now that the Okanovics were in the USA, Hal had to find work. As fate would have it, Hal and Maxi were lucky to have a neighbor who helped Hal find a machine shop job. Hal worked there for four and a half years.

After his time at the machine shop, Hal worked two full-time jobs for nine-months. He transitioned into a part-time job doing security for Wesley Homes. From there, he worked his way up through the Security and Maintenance to his present position as head of the department.

Maxi came to work for Wesley Homes over ten years ago as a housekeeper before transitioning to working in the laundry. Because of her meticulous work and loving nature, she moved up the ladder and eventually was promoted to her current position as Laundry/Housekeeping coordinator.

In 2000, the Okanovics made becoming American citizens a mission. They tried for seven years to go through the citizenship process, but each time much more urgent matters would surface.

The most recent tragedy was the death of their youngest of two sons in 2007. His wife and daughter survive him. Hal and Maxi now assist in taking care of and raising their granddaughter, five-year-old Jasmina.

Hal and Maxi still remember how touched they were by the outflowing of sympathy that they received from the residents and staff of Wesley Homes. The Okanovics received many cards and words of condolence after the passing of their son. Maxi still has those cards.

The Okanovics persevered and completed their citizenship mission recently. While Maxi was unexpectedly able to take the test and the Oath of Citizenship on the same day, Hal had to leave right after the test.

He was later chosen to take his oath at a special ceremony at the Washington State Convention Center. Though they had hoped to take their oath together, the Okanovics were happy.

They had both been very vocal that they were not going to relinquish the dream of acquiring U.S. citizenship. Their path to citizenship has been a true example of determination.

Pursuing his love and passion for soccer, Hal assists with coaching soccer at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. He and his sons always played soccer and loved it, and Hal is giving back by coaching at the soccer center.

He and Maxi established the Okanovic Scholarship in memoriam to their son. The scholarship covers the cost of three underprivileged kids to attend Starfire Sports.

At Wesley Homes, residents come first in Hal and Maxi’s minds. They have strong relationships with the residents and staff.

As Hal put it after ten years of service with Wesley Homes, “We smile together and cry together.”

The Okanovics love the residents and treat them like family. Maxi pointed out, “Even after residents pass, their families come back and visit.”

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