Willard J. Osterhout

BERNE — Willard J. Osterhout, a man who lived to serve his community, died on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, at his Berne home surrounded by his family. He was 77.

“He was a very easygoing, friendly person,” said his daughter, Teri Osterhout. “Everybody loved him; with everybody he was generous.”

“My father was a very outgoing man who loved people, who did anything for anyone who asked,” said another one of his four daughters, Amy Anderson. She added that he would do anything he could for his community.

Mr. Osterhout was born on Feb. 9, 1940, to DeForest Osterhout and Helen Mae Brownell of New Salem. He grew up living above a family restaurant at the end of Thacher Park Road with his brother and two cousins before eventually moving to a house nearby. He enjoyed recounting his childhood, both in the books he would later write and telling his children.

In his book “Osterhout Brothers’ Indian Ladder Lodge,” Mr. Osterhout described how the Indian Ladder Lodge was packed with people on Friday and Saturday nights, and how he would fall asleep listening to music from either a jukebox or the live music of the Big Band Era.

Ms. Anderson described how her father would sneak into the dance hall with his brother and cousins and roller skate there until they got caught.

As Mr. Osterhout became older, he would become a dishwasher, later graduating to making drinks in the service bar.

Life at a nightclub was not always fun or glamourous. Mr. Osterhout’s parents worked hard; he wrote how they worked every day of the week at the restaurant. The hard work is what he attributed his father’s death when he was 16 to, leaving his mother to care for him and his brother.

Mr. Osterhout went to school in a one-room schoolhouse in New Salem before becoming one of the first students to attend the newly built Clayton A. Bouton High School. He graduated in 1958 and attended Hudson Valley Community College for two years, studying electronics. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for two years, traveling around the Mediterranean on the U.S.S. Shangri La.

“He loved it,” said Ms. Anderson. She said he saw the Swiss Alps, the Catacombs, and the Coliseum.

After serving in the Navy, he returned to his hometown and worked as a papermaker, and then as an ironworker. As an ironworker, he helped construct several buildings in Albany, including the former Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield building on New Scotland Road.

Mr. Osterhout then worked as a heavy-equipment operator, first for the village of Voorheesville and then the town of New Scotland, for which he worked for over 20 years. He kept so busy with work, that Ms. Osterhout recalls waking up early to go hunting with him as a chance to spend time with him.

Mr. Osterhout met the woman who would become his wife, Jerrine Kane, at a Protestant Young Adult meeting at the Calvary United Methodist Church in Latham. Miss Kane had grown up in Albany, and was working in Syracuse at the time they met. Her mother was a high-society woman from Canada.

“She was a city girl,” Mr. Osterhout told The Enterprise last year, “but I married her and brought her to the country.”

He said the marriage caused a bit of a stir, with the mothers of the bride and the groom not expecting the marriage to last. Miss Kane’s mother even told her daughter that she didn’t have to go through with it on the day of the wedding, he said.

“We proved them wrong,” Mr. Osterhout said.

They were married in 1966. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on February 19, 2016.

 

Willard J. Osterhout enjoyed fishing on Warners Lake.

 

The Osterhouts moved to Warners Lake in 1970, and started a small restaurant with a boat launch and rowboats docked on the lake, called Osterhout’s. Eventually the restaurant closed, and the rowboat service stayed open, until that closed as well, leaving a private boat launch behind Mr. Osterhout’s home from which he would fish.

“They loved their life on the lake,” said Ms. Anderson.

Ms. Osterhout described how strangers would come to his door and ask to use the boat launch behind his home to access the lake, and how he would always allow it. He even let a group train for a triathlon on his property.

Mr. Osterhout let his brother, mother, and mother-in-law stay at his home along with his wife and four daughters. It also became a safe haven for neighborhood kids.

“If you ever were kicked out of your house, the Osterhouts would take you in,” said Ms. Anderson.

Mr. Osterhout was a member of the Helderberg Fife and Drum Corps, and would bring his whole family along to muster.

“It was quite the adventure being an Osterhout kid,” said Ms. Anderson.

The family’s adventures also included trips to Lake George, Indian Lake, or the Thousand Islands.

“We looked like the Clampetts leaving town,” laughed Mr. Osterhout, describing to The Enterprise last year how their car’s roof rack would be stacked high with camping supplies.

Ms. Anderson noted that, after their mother’s death in 2016, Mr. Osterhout’s children brought him back to the Thousand Islands for one more amazing trip.

Mr. Osterhout had been a longtime member of the Hilltowns Players, starting about 20 years ago in a production of “Brigadoon.”

“They didn’t have enough men for one of the shows,” said Ms. Anderson.

Mr. Osterhout had brought his daughters in for an audition, and was asked to join. He was resistant, saying he couldn’t sing or dance, but agreed.

“He really could sing, he just couldn’t carry a tune … ,” said Ms. Anderson. “He had this beautiful deep tone.”

Mr. Osterhout came to love the theater. He continued performing “both with and without his children” until six or seven years ago, said Ms. Osterhout. At times, he has been in shows with his entire family. His granddaughter, Brienna Skipka, had the lead in the latest production, “Deck the Halls,” which he could not attend, and so the family gave him a DVD of the performance to watch.

His last performance was as Davy Jones in “A Pirate’s Life for Me,” which he gave while wearing his oxygen mask. He wanted to be in the show because all his grandchildren were in it with him.

Mr. Osterhout may have been best known for being an active member of his community. He was a member of the Warners Lake Improvement Association, and served as its president for 30 years. He also was one of the few Republicans to serve on Berne’s town council, and was the fire commissioner in Berne for many years.

Fond of fishing, he was a founding member of the Helderberg Bassmasters. He also  participated with the East Berne Businessman’s association and volunteered at the Wyman Osterhout Center, named for his cousin. He was also a member of the Helderberg Lutheran Church.

Mr. Osterhout was active with the New Scotland Historical Association, and also wrote five books on local history that were filled with personal reminisces and photographs he gathered from friends and neighbors.

“Everybody comes to the house to get them,” said Ms. Osterhout, of the books.

He also documented life and the history of the Hilltowns with the website AlbanyHilltowns.com and the Facebook groups Friends of Warner Lake and You might be a Hilltowner if … . He updated these daily, often receiving old photos or postcards dropped off by neighbors for him to include.

While he updated the websites vigorously, Mr. Osterhout wasn’t always tech savvy.

“He had to call my sister one day because he was clearing out all the cookies on his computer and accidentally erased his hard drive,” said Ms. Anderson.

However, as Mr. Osterhout aged and had trouble leaving the house, he decided to buy a laptop and taught himself how to use it.

The Facebook groups he oversaw were filled with goodbyes from the many people he touched in his community.

“He will be greatly missed by all who knew him,” said Ms. Anderson.

****

Mr. Osterhout is survived by his daughters, Laura Osterhout and her husband, Joseph Hufnagel, of Falls Church, Virginia; Amy Anderson and her husband, Steven Anderson, of Knox; Teri Osterhout-Paton and her husband, David Paton, of Knox; and Stacy Loucks and her husband, Theodore Loucks, of Knox; his grandchildren, Joshua and Patrick Hufnagel; Tyler and Kyle Anderson; Caitlyn Fronckowiak and her husband, Michael; Brienna Skipka and her husband, Ryan Skipka; and Zachary, Alexandra and Alyssa Loucks; his brother, John R. Osterhout and Janet Morris, of Delmar; and his niece Heather Mooney and her husband, Timothy; and many close friends.

A service will be held on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m. at Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church on Helderberg Trail in Berne. A celebration of his life will immediately follow at the restaurant Maple on the Lake; friends and family are invited to attend.

Memorial contributions can be made to The Hilltowns Players at Post Office Box 208, Berne, NY 12023, or The Warners Lake Improvement Association, 23 Oxford Place, Albany, NY  12203.

— H. Rose Schneider

 

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