Editor’s note: Last week we received the following update on Jean Ott, whom we profiled last April. For those interested, it fills in some of the details of her life. We’re grateful to Ed O’Donnell for doing so.
Katie Vanaria, director of Institutional Advancement at Ascension School sent me a copy of your piece on Jean Ott in response to some communication that I had with her office late in 2016. [The Prime of Miss Jean Ott, News, April 27, 2016]. I am “the cousin from New York state” and Jean’s closest next of kin who served as executor of her will and successor trustee of her trust.
I grew up in a house at South Grove Avenue and Jackson Boulevard that was purchased by my maternal grandmother somewhere around 1916. My grandmother’s first husband, August Meter (father of my mother and aunt) died when he was very young. My grandmother then married P.J. Winkler, who was the brother-in-law of her first husband and brother to Mayme Winkler.
Mayme Winkler married August Ott. They had two daughters, Miriam and Jean.
Both of my parents attended Ascension School. I was a member of Ascension’s class of 1960. My dad passed away in 1949 when I was 2. My earliest memories are of Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays spent either at Grove and Jackson or at 739 Scoville with Jean, her mom and sister Miriam, who was my godmother.
I married my high school sweetheart, Jody Sandoval Tucker (Ascension class of 1961) at Ascension Church in 1969. Jean was godmother to one of our two sons. Each Christmas and Thanksgiving and all the family gatherings that we had took place at one house or the other until each family member passed over time and Jean was left alone. Then she joined Jody and I and our sons for holidays at our home.
We moved our family to Long Island in 1981, but never really lost touch with Jean. For holidays, Jean was “adopted” by a family of one of her fellow Ascension teachers, who lived in Naperville, so Jean’s holiday celebrations moved even further west. She visited us twice on Long Island between then and now and as she grew older she became less mobile.
I knew nothing of her writing even though I knew her my entire life. I do know, but with little detail, that she lived the normal life of a young lady, which included study, romance and travel. I was surprised to find passports that indicate several visits to Great Britain, France and Germany between 1972 and 1985, so the “Emily Dickenson” of Oak Park, she was not.
Her father was her hero and, as you so eloquently wrote, teaching at Ascension was her life. She was a very private person with a small, close, wonderful circle of friends, who would meet for lunch, catch a ballet, movie or a nearby Shakespearean production and share conversation. Her nightstand reading at the time of her passing was a biography of William Halleck, Lincoln’s chief of staff.
My family visited Jean on occasional trips back to Oak Park and we spoke almost weekly on the phone. It was during one of those phone conversations that she had asked me to be executor of her will and successor trustee of her trust.
I accepted and a few years later, after speaking with Jean on the evening of Feb. 21, 2016, the phone rang at 3 a.m. the next morning with a call from her former associate and the news that no one wants to hear.
I’m left being the persona of the distant cousin who quietly flew in from New York, took care of his cousin’s business and departed under the darkness of night. To those who are curious, I can say that I followed my cousin’s wishes to the letter as close as I was able. I notified a couple of the luncheon ladies, whose names were left on a small piece of paper. There would be no wake, mass or funeral. I asked Jean several times about this and she was adamant about this request. Her response was such that I would not need to ask for clarification again. She said that on All Souls Day, the parish had a mass for all those who passed in the preceding year. She said she knew she would be remembered then and believed that students would be attending.
I prayed that Jean would understand my breaking part of my promise in that some of the “lunch club” and her former associate with her adopted family requested to be at the interment. We met at the cemetery and with the guidance of the funeral director and a deacon from a nearby parish, laid her to rest. Jody and I joined the ladies for one last lunch that lingered well into the afternoon. Jean would have loved it.
I am most appreciative of your wonderful obituary. Your measured, thoughtful prose was a gift in itself. We are ever-so-grateful also to Ascension Parish, the school, its faculty and alumni for providing a direction and an environment that allowed Jean the opportunity to follow a dream and make a difference each and every day.
Ed O’Donnell is a resident of Northport, New York. He grew up in Oak Park.