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Ottinger, John

[Click any image to enlarge. John passed away in 2014.]

[Yearbook] John Ottinger

John Ottinger

“Otto”… individualist … very intellectual … one of the Budget Boys … applaudable accordionist … unique dresser … Uncle Sam and Navy beckon.
Born: 5-Jul-1937
Died: 1-Jul-2014
Age: 76


[From the cressfuneralservice.com website, July 2, 2014.]

John C. Ottinger, 76, of Madison, died July 1, 2014, after living successfully for many years with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was born on July 5, 1937, in New York City, the son of John C. and Dorothy (Fonda) Ottinger. He served in the US Army in Europe from 1955 to 1958. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a BA in journalism. He was a dispatcher, with the Badger Cab Co from 1964-1978, the Madison Police Department from 1978-1988, and the Dane County 911 center from 1988-1998; in the latter two positions winning numerous awards and honors.

He married Peggy Lison on Madeline Island, WI, on May 14,1995. Peggy was his “Rock of Gibraltar”, especially in his later years. After retirement they traveled extensively in their motor home in the US and Canada. He was a volunteer with RSVP in Madison. For the past several years he kept a web site and message board for persons with COPD and other lung diseases. He enjoyed canoeing and wilderness travel, genealogy, and playing the piano and accordion.

He was a lifelong Democrat, and believed strongly in the separation of church and state. The date for John’s celebration will be posted on this site, it will be toward the end of July and at our home.

I’ll miss and love you forever, Moka…
—Miz P

A contribution for John’s uncovered medical and nursing home expenses would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Please add your memories of John in the “memory” section on this site. Thanks so much to everyone who helped these last six months. You are all loved and appreciated.

Email from Peggy, John’s wife, July 2, 2014…

Hello Cliff,

I am Peggy—John’s wife. I have no phone number for you so have to tell you here that John died at 5:35pm yesterday. Sorry for your loss—you knew him long before I did. He passed quietly and I was fortunate to be at his side.

A wonderful friend of John’s is a writer for the WS Journal [Wisconsin State Journal] and I will copy a piece that appeared today/tomorrow about John.

I’ll miss him so but his suffering was increasing by the day—good he could leave it behind.

Warm regards,


Email reply to Peggy…

Hi Peggy… Was going to call him this weekend. We last spoke a couple of months ago—might have been March. I knew he wasn’t doing well and I should have followed up sooner. He was my best friend in high school and we had many exciting (ok, “bizarre” may be a better choice) adventures together, along with a couple of others: John Cummings (deceased), Kit Carson (deceased), and Brooks Gutman (whereabouts unknown). ​

John and I spent a weekend together in Paris in 1958 or so, both of us there in uniform. We then lost track of each other until 2005, a few months before our 50th reunion. One afternoon I answered the phone in the kitchen (we were living in NH), only to hear that unmistakable voice at the other end—unheard in nearly 50 years: “Hello, George Boy… ?”

I’ll be collecting thoughts about John from others, including my own, and posting them at staples55.com soon.

I’m so sorry for your loss, Peggy (you and I have spoken briefly on the phone a couple of times), but I know how bad the last few months must have been for him (and you) with all the effects of his meds, and so on.

I’ll try to get you tomorrow in the afternoon.

Yes, I and fellow classmates who got to know him will sorely miss him. Old “John Boy” or “Otto” was unique in his ways…

God bless,
—Cliff & Ronnie
Hendersonville, NC

Email from John’s younger brother, Hank, to me, July 6, 2014…

Hello George:

You probably don’t remember me very well, but I meant to write to you—indeed, call you when John passed. By now, obviously, you know that, and I thought I’d paste in something I sent out to friends. I know you and John had a lot of exchanges over the years, some no doubt recalling your Staples days (and shenanigans). Is there a way you can pass the word to a Staples site? I seem to recall John mentioning something about such a place.

Coincidentally, I thought of you when I was in Asheville last week visiting grandkids, and I should have looked you up. Next time we’re down there, I’ll do so.

511 Westwood Avenue
Columbia, MO. 65203

Sadly, but thankfully, my most excellent brother passed away this evening, four days short of his 77th birthday, after a valiant, 25-year fight with lung disease. I want to thank all of you for your thoughts and wishes over the past few months. That he lived as long as he did is a tribute not only to a strong heart, but to his faithful, caring wife who was with him when he passed.

An obituary that John and I kicked back and forth in recent months follows, but it, of course, doesn’t begin to capture the loss I (and others) feel. John and I shared a batch of interests: late-night calls discussing books, films, politics, old girl friends, reminiscences of some of our crazier adventures, and much more—all will be sorely missed. To have a loving, listening, caring, occasionally wiseacre brother is a treasure of profound happiness and value.

As he, a lover of T.S. Eliot’s poetry would have said: “Not fare well, but fare forward…”

Recent draft of obituary by John and Hank…

John C. Ottinger, 76 of Madison, died July 1, 2014, after living successfully for many years with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Born on July 5, 1937, in New York City, the son of John C. and Dorothy (Fonda) Ottinger, he served in the US Army in Europe from 1955 to 1958. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a BA in Journalism. He was a dispatcher, with the Badger Cab Company from 1964-1978, the Madison Police Department from 1978-1988, and the Dane County 911 center from 1988-1998—in the latter two positions winning numerous awards and honors.

He married Peggy Lison on Madeline Island, WI, on May 14,1995. After retirement, they traveled extensively in their motor home in the US and Canada. He enjoyed canoeing and wilderness travel, genealogy, and music. John was known as an irrepressible storyteller, a master of antics with semantics who could render a groaner from the most pedestrian conversation. No stranger to the outdoors, he trod sections of the Ice Age trail, backpacked and paddled in the Ozarks and in North Carolina, and delighted in planning and leading canoeing expeditions to remote Canadian waters.

Before the onset of COPD, John jogged, played tennis, and held his own on the squash court. He enjoyed assisting Peggy develop her glorious gardens as well as helping plant and harvest seasons of vegetables in their Eagle Heights Garden plot. He played traditional Irish music on the accordion and classical music on the piano. A lifelong liberal, John volunteered for any number of local and national political campaigns. He was a volunteer with RSVP in Madison. For the past several years, he kept a web site and message board for persons with COPD and other lung diseases. He is survived by his wife, Peggy Lison of Madison, and a brother, Hank Ottinger, of Columbia, MO.

Email from Bruce Kent, July 3…

Thanks Cliff. The name Orrin MacCleod comes to mind. Two truly unique individuals. I am very sorry for your loss.

I would very much like to see the WSJ piece John’s wife alluded to. As mentioned, John was obviously a guy who I should have made an effort to get to know better (my loss).

Looks like your “pack” and mine are sorely diminished my friend; I did not know John was your best friend, Cliff. Please accept my most genuine sympathy (I know the feeling as you are well aware).

I did not know John Cummings, Brooks Guttmann, or John Ottinger very well (hardly at all) in HS, but Kit Carson was someone who I drank heavily with after we graduated HS and I was between college engagements…

You gonna miss all the weather? Bruce

—Bruce Kent. Sent from my iPhone

Email from Bob Walton, July 3…

Cliff: I assume that you are talking about John Ottinger, who was a great guy. As I recall, he made our 50th reunion a success by tracking down nearly every missing classmate. Having done that, I was surprised that he was not there, but later learned why.

I recall him specifically because he rolled over his 1947 Mercury sedan on the way back from Vista. I bought [the Merc from him] and put the engine in my 1940 Mercury four-door convertible—a very rare car with only 872 made. I recently saw one on eBay for which the owner wanted $50,000. Selling it for $150 was one of the many mistakes I have made in my life… :)


Email from Linda Clifford (Cliff’s sister), July 6, 2014…

Sad to see this Cliffy. I can’t really picture him, but I have a memory of him at our house when the upright piano was in the front room. I kept finding excuses to come in there with you cool older guys.


Noel Castiglia remembrance, July 6, 2014…

I may be a little forgetful but my early recollections of John were in Bedford Junior High School (BJHS)—maybe sometime in 9th grade. I believe he was in the same [my] class. During lunch a few of us guys went next door to the little stream between BJHS and Peterson’s Barn in the spring. We gathered about 30 garter snakes and brought them back to class to enliven the school day.

By the time we were in high school I remember first hearing John with his accordion. He was really good and I was amazed at how he could play the instrument and move around so quickly, making the music and John’s movement an interesting experience.

In Staples on those weekends during the late fall and winter when there was not so much outside action ([like] hanging out in the evening at Compo Beach with the high school crowd that gathered to drink a couple of beers and contemplate our next escapade), John solved the problem with a rotating poker party. Either at his home down by the Saugatuck River near the bridge or at a classmate’s home like Kit Carson or Orrin McCloud.

I remember one of the early poker nights at John’s where some crème de menthe (it was green) showed up and Orrin was passing it around. After the second bottle and a night of losing at poker I was ready to go home. When I touched base with John to let him know I was heading out, he started laughing. I said, “What’s the Joke?” He laughed and laughed with that deep voice I remember, and said: “You. Your tongue is GREEN! Be careful talking when you get home!” :)

I was never a winner at the poker parties so gradually I dropped out. Digging dirt as a laborer at Fillow Flower after school was too much work to be stupid and lose it gambling… Money could be better spent going to Vista with JD McMahon, John, Marty Caselnova, Hilary Carpenter and Mike Cleary than losing at cards. Or better spent hunting, fishing and free scuba diving with Richard and Lanny Allen. Or hunting with Paul & Peter King.

I remember a night run to Vista with John. I remember getting there and we bought the liquor and beer for the crowd we expected for poker night. But the winter weather was blowing snow across the highway on the way back and I am not sure how he made it to Westport as it seemed we were mostly driving or skidding on the ice off the road.

John and our group would be at the beach for some WPLJ (White Port and Lemon Juice) and beer with our friends and head to the Westnor to recover before heading home. On a long summer evening there always was Bruce Kent’s 24/7 party to stop by and check in to see who was new in this eclectic party group. Or maybe with a Milk Punch after a hot day at the beach with Don von Liebermann, Sandy Frey, Mike Cleary Marty Caselnova, Vince Depierro and friends from the beach day to cool down at Bruce’s.

John was very bright and very good at English. While we had lost touch over the years when it came to tracking down classmates for our 45th and 50th reunions, John was invaluable. He had honed his investigative skills over the years and was able to find virtually anyone Cliff Clifford, Judy Gault Sterling, Tom Saviano or I could not find. He even found those who were in prison on and off like Kit Carson, and those who did not necessarily want to be found, like Ron Grecula. I enjoyed catching up on his activities since high school and in spite of his illness at the time, John was always willing to help his classmates even though he would be unable to attend the reunion.

John made accordion music so much fun to listen to. For me it has been a privilege to have had fun with John in his much younger high school days when we were carefree and had fewer responsibilities in life. I regret we lived far apart as he was such a good guy and had many interesting views on so many subjects. He would have made a great discussion group partner (not possible now, maybe when I’m gone, too…).

Farewell my friend, until we meet again…

And, John—by the way—this time I will call that hand to make sure you are not bluffing… :)

Email from Lanny Allen, July 7, 2014…

Thanks, [Noel], for the word picture you painted of John! He was a memory that needed illumination. Your thoughts were enlightening to say the least. I remember him and Alix Vergun (pardon spelling), coaching me in physics class. They stimulated me to actually get involved with the thinkers at Staples. All I can remember was, John was a cool guy with a keen brain and just a good guy all around. Also I was involved with the poker games to some degree, great memories. Kind and thoughtful are my memories of John. See ya’, John, in the next life; that day with no ending.


Email to Peggy from Bob Walton, July 8, 2014…


First of all, I am Bob. I did not know John particularly well at Staples High School, and I have no recollection of an impression that he pretended to be a “tough guy”.

What I do recall is that he had a 1947 Mercury sedan. There was a town just over the border in New York, Vista, that was so isolated that a bar there would serve alcohol to anyone that walked through the door, regardless of age. John and some fellow Staples friends were coming back from Vista one evening when John rolled over his Mercury. Fortunately no one was injured. I had a very rare 1940 Mercury at the time, so I bought John’s car and put the engine into mine.

I also recall that he did a great job of locating missing classmates for our 50th reunion, and I was initially surprised when he didn’t show up. Of course, I soon learned the reason. In more recent years I did exchange a few emails with him, and he even sent me a picture of his Mercury before it rolled over. I did read the article about John in the WSI, and I have given it to my wife to read as well. What a varied and interesting life he had! No wonder you miss him so much…

When I die, I doubt that anyone will write anything about me, except for my wife who, fortunately, is a very good writer. I am so sorry that he smoked, as I never have. People that smoke are very reluctant to give it up, and I have never had any success getting anyone to do so [stop smoking], even when I tell them the following story:

My father was not a particularly strong or assertive individual, but he did have a wife and three children to support. In the 1950’s, when it became apparent that smoking could have a significant negative impact upon your health, one day he simply stopped smoking and never had another cigarette again.

I am truly sorry for your loss.


And email reply from Peggy to Bob, July 8, 2014…

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the inquiry on John’s and my behalf. It’s only one week today that
he has been gone. Can’t really believe it yet.

Sorry for your loss too; you knew John way before I did. He probably pretended
to be a tough guy in school but he had a wonderful heart. That’s the part I

Did you get to read the article on John in the WI State Journal?

Any help can be sent by making [out a] check to Margaret Lison and send to:

Summit Credit Union
P.O. Box 8046
Madison Wi 53708

Keep in touch if you would like. Email is good for this sort of thing. You could also put your memories of
John on the CRESS site by selecting “memories” on his page. I like reading them.

Have a happy summer and thanks once again.

—Peggy and dog, “Sparky”

Email from Bruce Kent to Peggy, July 8, 2014…

Hello Peggy –

I too would like to add my condolences at John’s passing; he handled a dreadful disease with dignity and grace.

Like Bob, I did not know John very well in HS (though I do remember he favored a black leather jacket and jeans and hung with the “shop boys” – which in and of itself kinda made him a “no no” for a fine young preppy boy like myself.)

In our later years I did have a chance to communicate with him at Cliff’s recommendation; his grasp of just about any subject was truly remarkable.

It is my policy not to speak to liberal democrats – except when ordering fries to go with my Big Mac – but John was clearly an exception; as Cliff mentioned John was one of the few humans out there that one could disagree with amiably.

He was a rare and unique guy and you and your family has my most genuine sympathy.

—Bruce Kent

From John’s 50th reunion greeting to classmates…

Military service in Europe. College: B.A., University of Wisconsin, 1965. Marriage: Peggy Lison, 1985. Career(s): US Army veteran, public safety communications (read: 911 centers). Got in when the concept was just starting and just stayed in WI where I’ve lived most of the time since 1958.

Have I ever learned anything? Maybe it’s like Eli Berton, my favorite teacher, said: “You’ll just make the same mistakes, only not quite so often.”

Madison, WIx

Assorted pix from recent years

[Ottinger] 1960's...?

Back to the 60s? (Check the haircut...)

[Ottinger: NM, 1998] John at 51.

John at 51
New Mexico, 1998

[Ottinger] Off to London to visit the queen... WI, 1998

Sailing with Peggy
Wisconsin, 1998

[Ottinger] John and Peggy.

John and Peggy
Arizona, 2000

[Ottinger] “Lady of Spain,  I adore you...” I can still hear the echoes... WI, 2003

With beloved accordion
Wisconsin, 2003

[Ottinger] John and Peggy WI, 2007 or so.

John and Peggy
Wisconsin, 2007

[Ottinger] Brother, Hank (class of '59) and female companion.

Brother Hank (class of '59) and companion

John also forwarded a remembrance of his uncle, “Bunky”, a US Navy pilot who gave his life heroically over Okinawa in 1945.

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