By JANET HEIM
4:14 PM EST, December 31, 2011
Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Frederick F. Otto, who died Dec. 10 at the age of 87. His obituary was published in the Dec. 11 edition of The Herald-Mail.
Frederick "Fred" Otto valued education at any age.
The 1942 Boonsboro High School Class of 1942 valedictorian began his career as a teacher at Hancock High School, then moved to Smithsburg High School. His father had been a teacher and his daughter became a teacher.
Then for 29 years, Fred served as registrar, director of admissions and dean of continuing education at Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College.
When others would be settling into retirement, Fred took the "interim" position of executive director for the Washington County Commission on Aging, which lasted 15 years. He officially retired in 2004 at age 80.
Fred's two children, Steve Otto of Sea Girt, N.J., and Janine Nichols of Dover, Del., said their father stressed education, all the while making sure they were exposed to culture and opportunities, whether it was dance classes at the Women's Club or theater performances and dinner in Washington, D.C.
"He made sure we got a taste of culture," Janine said.
Steve admitted that he disliked the dance lessons at the time, but now is grateful for the opportunity.
He said while he was growing up, his father rarely was home because of his busy schedule, but he realized his father was working for the family's benefit.
"Dad was pretty selfless and very giving," Steve said.
Steve said that when his father was at HJC, he would come home from work, take a 10-minute nap, have dinner with the family, then head back to check on evening classes at the college.
"Family is the most important thing," Steve said. "We always ate together."
When Fred was working on his Ph.D. at George Washington University, he never took time off from his full-time job, although he was commuting to the D.C. campus two to three times a week, Steve said.
Janine, who is 10 years younger, said Fred was around more during her childhood.
"He was a wonderful man," she said. "I loved him dearly. He gave us so much. To me, he was always a great mentor and role model."
Fred's community involvement was notable — from Community Rescue Service to the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross to the Exchange Club and more.
"Dad just wanted to be a big part of the community," Janine said. "Dad was a people person."
Fred met Janet Reeder of Middletown, Md., when they both worked briefly at Fairchild Industries. They were married 64 years and in addition to their two children, had two grandchildren, Janine's children.
"His grandchildren were very special to him," Janine said.
Fred and Janet lived in Hagerstown and Funkstown, before settling in the Benevola area in 1958. They lived in the Boonsboro area for 30 years, until they downsized about seven years ago to a home near HCC, where Janet still lives.
The move meant an end to Fred's gardening days.
"He was constantly gardening," Steve said. "Mom said. 'If he digs another hole in this yard, I'm going to divorce him.'"
Steve said Janet did a lot of cooking for events, including dinner at their home when the son of the president of Zanzibar was visiting HJC.
"This is where Janine and I had so many experiences," Steve said.
They even found a handwritten note from then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon to their father among their father's belongings.
Fred enjoyed performing with the Potomac Playmakers, and the Ottos were active socially at Fountain Head Country Club.
Steve and Janine have childhood memories of their father carving pumpkins with them, going down sled runs in a saucer with them and building bonfires to light the slope, and of families gathering to play baseball together after dinner.
"It was a family unit the way it was meant to be," Steve said.
Janine remembers a difficult time in the family when Steve was diagnosed with throat cancer in his mid-40s and not expected to live.
"I remember planning Steve's funeral with Dad," Janine said.
He survived, thanks to an experimental drug.
Despite his schedule, Fred always made time to be at Steve and Janine's plays and concerts in high school. Steve played trumpet as a student at South Hagerstown High School, and Janine played the flute at Boonsboro High School.
"I think what's kind of neat in a way is that with the active schedule we had in high school, there was no doubt in my mind if there was a play or concert, he was always part of our high school," Steve said.
Fred took pride in his family's roots in the Sharpsburg area, where he grew up, dating to the Civil War.
The Otto farm at Antietam National Battlefield near Burnside Bridge was the site of a field hospital during the Battle of Antietam. Bricks for the Dunker Church were made on the Otto farm, according to Fred's historical information.
Steve said his father's childhood nickname was "Backstreet Freddie" when the family lived on a street behind Main Street. His family then moved to Main Street in Sharpsburg and his nickname was changed to "Upstreet Freddie."
Fred served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a communications officer and Navigation Division officer, in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
During Fred's funeral service, the Rev. Ann Boyd of St. John's Episcopal Church referenced how many lives Fred touched — whether in academics, through his family or his community involvement. Fred grew up in the Brethren Church, then after he married Janet, was involved with several local Presbyterian churches. The couple most recently attended St. John's Episcopal.
As Steve and Janine have been "taking care of business" since Fred's death, people have reminded them again and again about Fred's smile.
"He loved to come into a room singing and dancing," Janine said. "Everybody we talked to at the viewing and funeral talked about how he was a fun-loving guy everyone wanted to be around."
Fred was diagnosed years ago with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder, but the symptoms were kept at bay with medication that was suggested through the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Steve said.
A year ago, Fred was rushed to University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore with congestive heart failure. A nonmalignant mass also was found on his pancreas.
He began having trouble walking due to neuropathy, and macular degeneration was affecting his sight.
"The bottom line was he was tired," Steve said.
"He did have a very full, wonderful life," Janine said.
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