Kathy Osterman - Remembered Through the Eyes and Hearts of Her Community
By: Gloria L. Evenson
“Everybody has a Kathy story,” said 48th Ward Democratic Committeeman Marion Volini at a memorial mass for a longtime friend and Edgewater legend, Kathy Osterman. Osterman passed away December 8, 1992, in an untimely death from ovarian cancer. Most commonly reputed as President of the Edgewater Community Council (1985 to 1986), 48th Ward Alderman (1987 to 1989) and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events (1989 to 1992), Osterman had a way of touching all lives around her.
Born Kathleen Mary Lonergan on July 22, 1943, she grew up in a large, sociable, Irish-Catholic family in the Bronx, with Jewish, Italian and Irish neighbors. Osterman later credited her success as a community activist to growing up in a neighborhood with different kinds of people. When she was 10, Osterman moved to Montreal, where her father was transferred as an executive for Metropolitan Life. There she babysat for families who had marks on their arms from Auschwitz. At age 16, Osterman relocated to Park Forest with her family and attended Rich Township High School.
After graduating from Bloom Junior College, she worked as a bank teller, then as Social Director of Lawrence House retirement home. Upon her marriage to Harry Osterman, she moved to Rosedale in Edgewater where she raised two sons, Harry Joe and Matthew Ivan. She quite naturally became President of the Every Person Is Concerned (E.P.I.C.) block club.
Edgewater resident Kevin Schueller remembers growing up with Harry and Matthew and going to the circus with their family. Together they also attended midnight mass on Christmas at St. Gertrude Church. “No one could grow up in this neighborhood without knowing Kathy Osterman,” he says. “She was a super lady!”
Sharon Skolnick of Okee-Chee’s Wild Horse Gallery, 5337 N. Clark, points out that Osterman had great concern for Native Americans and other minorities. Skolnick met Osterman when asked by her to do Indian crafts for residents at Lawrence House. Osterman encouraged Skolnick as an artist and cut the ribbon at the opening of Okee-Chee’s. Osterman was to receive an Indian name in the spring of 1993, meaning “Lady of Many Hats, Friend to All.
Tiaa Tuntland of the Swedish-American Museum, 5211 N. Clark, recalls Osterman was also every supportive of the museum’s progress. She feels Osterman’s whole focus was “where you could do the most good.”
In addition to concern for the neighborhood and city, adds Fred Kuzel of the Edgewater Community Council, Osterman loved to throw parties. “She knew how to get people involved, and they enjoyed it.
LeRoy Blommaert, of the Edgewater Historical Society, reminds us that Osterman was instrumental in making the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, a Park District facility. She also took part in community efforts to save and restore two condemned Berger Park mansions, 6205 and 6219 N. Sheridan, as cultural facilities.
Conservation enthusiast Austin Wyman, of the One Touch of Nature art gallery, 5208 N. Clark, particularly admired “Operation Lakewatch,” in which Osterman recruited local boaters and fishermen to collect water samples and report illegal dumping.
In a public statement on her death, Osterman’s longtime friend and mentor, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, said: “along with being a superb public servant, Kathy was a dear friend to me and my entire family. Our deep loss is shared by all Chicagoans who felt the genuine love and affection she had for everyone who lived in this city.”
Osterman had worked with Daley when he was State’s Attorney, assisting crime victims as Supervisor of the Community Unity for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. As 48th Ward Alderman, she obtained City Council passage of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance. Daley appointed her Director of Special Events after he became Mayor. In this “ambassador-like” role of bringing people from a diverse city together for celebrations, Osterman’s activities included the “Welcome Home Parade” after Operation Desert Storm and a reception for Lech Walesa.
Mayor Daley served as a pallbearer at funeral services for Osterman on December 12, 1992, at St. Gertrude Church. Mrs. (Maggie) Daley read from the scriptures. Osterman’s diversified following was reflected in music by the Chicago Gay Men’s and Windy City Gay Choruses. The Barrett Sisters (a black gospel trio), members of the Chicago Symphony and Civic Orchestras, soloist Cathy Ford and bagpipe player Shannon Rovers. The Guardian Angels were among many attendees.
Rev. Jack Wall said Osterman “tried to make a community out of the City of Chicago… and helped us to see what life together in this city can be… She believed that everyone’s uniqueness is everybody’s specialness.”
On what would have been Kathy Osterman’s 50th birthday, Thursday, July 22, a newly beautified Ardmore Beach was renamed in her honor. A monument displaying a plaque and a picture of the former alderman now stands at the north end of the beach where Kathy dearly loved to frolic with family, friends and neighbors.
Anyone who enjoyed and was part of Edgewater during her 20-some years of accomplishments here is part of the Kathy story. As LeRoy Blommaert says, “She lived life to the fullest. Some of that’s in brick and mortar and that lasts.”
Osterman is survived by husband Bruce Dumont (whom she married in May 1992), sons Harry and Matthew, her parents, four brothers and two sisters. Our sincere condolences are offered to the immediate family.