Otto planning to do plenty of pondering

September 26, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - The MacArthur Foundation's work on aging stuck with Frederick F. Otto.

Twenty years ago, the philanthropical foundation, according to its Web site, "brought together a group of scientists from widely disparate fields - physicians, psychologists, sociologists, cell biologists and others - to mount an intensive, ten-year study of aging."

The study concluded "that genetics plays a much smaller role than had been thought and that successful aging is largely determined by lifestyle choices," the Web site says.

Otto - who is retiring Thursday after 15 years as executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging - said he's been influenced by the findings.


The commission tried to live by that philosophy as it helped 5,550 people in fiscal year 2003, Otto said.

It responded to pressing needs, such as providing meals and medical assistance, but also tried to look ahead to preventing illness, he said.

Otto - who will turn 80 in December - said he considers "remaining socially connected" essential for successful aging, as the MacArthur study found, as well as "continuing to do those things which helped you to remain functional, physically and mentally."

"It could be doing a crossword puzzle," he said.

It seems as if Otto has done for himself as he has preached.

He said he's "looking for" his tennis racket and occasionally "walks by" his golf clubs.

He has a brown briefcase full of writing that he hopes to continue.

During an interview in his office, he pulled a World War II book out of a drawer: "The Conquerors," by Michael Beschloss. The book's disclosures about the post-war strategy of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S Truman interest Otto, who served with the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

Later, Otto pulled another book out of another desk drawer: "The Millionaire Mind," by Thomas J. Stanley.

Otto said he learned that a few tips for being rich and successful include: Repair worn shoes instead of buying new ones, invest in old houses and seek unique products to sell.

He said he learned a little more about business success from a Playboy magazine interview with billionaire Donald Trump.

Man of many stories

Otto, who lives in Hagerstown, is grateful to be a clear thinker at 79 years old.

As he returns to writing, he has a wealth of stories and memories to capture on paper, such as his mother meeting his father.

Or how he boxed a few rounds at sea on a Navy ship to keep the crew relaxed and amused. Or the month he spent in New York City after World War II, taking in Big Band shows as he awaited new orders.

Otto said he can think back to at least one moment when he was 4 years old. A large package arrived at his home. He guessed it was a stove. No, it was a new red wagon, sent to him by a relative.

"These things are so vivid in my mind and I'm glad they are," he said.

Even so, there are concessions. After 25-plus years, Otto still can do a dead-on Elwood P. Dowd, talking to his invisible rabbit friend Harvey, but he has given up stage acting. He said remembering a script is too risky.

"He's such a smart man ... and has such a broad range of experience .... He handles things - not with humor. With good grace, let me put it that way," said Bill Beard, the president of the commission's board of directors.

The bulk of Otto's professional career has been in education.

He said he received a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., in 1948.

According to his rsum, he received a master's degree in education in 1959 and a doctorate in general administration in 1973, both from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

After graduating from Shepherd College, Otto taught math and science in Hancock and Smithsburg for 11 years.

He then was offered a job as registrar at Hagerstown Junior College, which is now known as Hagerstown Community College. He became the director of continuing education, then, for 20 years, and was the dean of community services and continuing education.

He said he mostly set up training programs for the business sector.

Plenty of pondering

In public school, college and public service work, he "led by example and by knowing precisely what the goals were," said Richard Whisner of Hagerstown. A boyhood friend, Whisner later worked with Otto as a principal and superintendent.

Otto was born in Big Pool and grew up in Sharpsburg.

He said he spent a year at Shepherd College, then enlisted in the Navy's V-12 Program, knowing he'd be drafted if he didn't.

He said his first assignment took him to Casablanca and Naples.

After the war, Otto went to work at Fairchild, where he met his wife, Janet. He said one of their early dates was at the Alexander Hotel - where the Commission on Aging's offices are now.

They've been married 57 years.

Otto has at least a few other things planned for retirement. Concentrating on his two grandchildren, ages 11 and 13. Traveling with his wife by train across Canada.

Trying to solve social puzzles, such as the correlation between socioeconomic level and fundamentalism.

Plenty of pondering.

"Continue to do things that enable you to remain functional," he said.

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