SHIRLEY OSTERBROCK (nee Shirley Mae Herman)
Shirley H. Osterbrock passed away on January 12, 2023, at the age of 92. She had lost her husband, Carl H. Osterbrock, in 2000, and is survived by her children, Andy and Amy (Forrester), their spouses, Suzanne and Rick, and her grandchildren – Drew, Sarah & Emily.
Shirley was born on November 24, 1930, to Eunice (Lusk) Herman. She grew up in the neighborhood of Northside, in Cincinnati, a close-knit community of family and friends. Eighty years later, if you took her on a drive through the streets of Northside, she could point out who lived in almost every house on every street, and she had stories to tell about all of them. She attended Chase Elementary, attended and graduated from Hughes High School, babysat, worked in the school cafeteria, and worked as a bank teller in University Heights and downtown Cincinnati after she graduated. She had a head for and love of numbers – in seven years as a bank teller, she made less that $1.00 worth of errors in her daily tallies – total! She saved enough money to buy her own car and rental property. When her stepfather asked whether she wanted to invest in stocks or real estate, she told him she wanted to put her money into something she could see and touch.
In 1954 she married Carl H. Osterbrock, whom she had known in high school when they worked as cashiers together in the cafeteria. They moved briefly to Urbana-Champaign Illinois while Carl completed his masters in Electrical Engineering, then on to New Jersey when he took a job with Bell Labs. They returned to Cincinnati when her mother became ill with cancer, and Carl’s mother perished in the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. He became a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and Shirley became mother as well as home-maker and wife. Amy was born in 1957, Andy in 1960. She took pride and pleasure in creating a beautiful and well-managed home space for her family, first in Finneytown (with a year away in Lansing where Carl worked on his doctoral research at Michigan State University) and then in Clifton. She cooked from scratch, shopped at Findlay Market and farm markets before it was trendy, turned her backyard into a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, was a vegetarian for years (while continuing to cook meat meals for Carl), tried her hand (foot?) at folk dancing, did all of her own decorating-painting- wallpaper (said she would rather paint a wall than wash it), met with high school friends once a month in a bowling league, learned to play the mountain dulcimer, sewed her own curtains, and became an incredibly gifted cross stitcher. Her homes were always immaculate – literally, you could eat off of her floor. She loved to shop at second hand stores, and find hidden treasures. She was truly someone who could “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Frequently weekends were spent camping out in a trailer parked on a hard-scrabble farm in Adams County. Summers were spent at a lake in northern Michigan: beachcombing & hikes, bonfires & cookouts, family card games & puzzles, crocheting and cross-stitching. In the 1970s, when her kids got busy with their own lives as teenagers, she got her real estate license, and proceeded to become one of the best and most enthusiastic realtors in the city. She never met a house she didn’t like – no matter what shape it was in, her comment would be “it has possibilities”.
While she had supported and aided her husband in his endeavors as university professor, civil rights and political activist, church leader, outdoor enthusiast and environmental crusader, in the late 1970s Shirley decided to combine a dedication to social responsibility with her own love of Cincinnati’s old neighborhoods and houses, and helped found the low income housing not-for-profit “Owning The Realty” in Over-the-Rhine. Her official title may have been office manager and bookkeeper, but she did everything from corner census studies of traffic flow, grant writing, selecting properties for purchase, renovating and refurnishing apartments, to helping tenants manage their finances to meet their rent payments on time and helping the maintenance crew pick out quality uniforms that wouldn’t fall apart after the first washing. She treated each and every one of their tenants with care and respect, knew the neighborhood – and they knew her. Her oversight and careful financial management enabled the organization to operate with enough of a profit to continue to purchase and renovate new properties, while at the same time offering decent, stable, affordable housing for low income members of the Over-the-Rhine community. And in the process, they also were able to restore and repurpose vacant properties, preserving the unique housing stock which gave this historical part of the city so much of its character. This was not a job for Shirley – it was a vocation.
Shirley and Carl were just getting ready to launch the “golden years” phase of their life, had purchased a pickup truck and Airstream travel trailer, and were planning to start heading out on camping road trips, when she lost Carl to lung cancer in 2000. By this point, Shirley had undergone two complete hip replacements, but she regrouped, moved to a one level, ground floor condo, and created a new world for herself – a new home to decorate, a new neighborhood to integrate into, pool parties and crafting club, weekly trips to the library, water exercise at the senior center, and summers on her own up at the lake in Michigan (with occasional visits from family – but not too often). She maintained a full and fiercely independent life for herself for the next 20 years – until finally the onset of dementia began to take that away from her. She passed away peacefully on the morning of January 12, 2023, at The Landing of Long Cove retirement home. Almost to the end, even with mind and body failing her, she could lie in her bed and point out decorating “errors” in her room, and try to tell us how she would fix it right . . .
We love you, mom & Grandee, and you will be sorely missed.
A memorial service will be held for Shirley at 2 pm on Saturday, February 11, 2023, at St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church (320 Resor Avenue) followed by a brief reception for visiting and fellowship. In lieu of flowers, donations in Shirley's name may be made to Glen Lake Community Library.