October 3, 1919, dawned a typical, seemingly routine, early autumn morning in Naples, New York, a small village southwest of Canandaigua Lake, population 1200. However, inside the two story white colonial Main Street home of Harry Otto and Josephine Nelson Otto, it was a very special day filled with excitement and rejoicing as they welcomed the safe arrival into this world of their third daughter, Jean Wallace Otto, Also caught up in the wonder and joy were their two older daughters, Dorothy and Frances. In 1921, a fourth daughter, Ruth, would complete this loving and happy family! Jean’s parents were a civic- minded couple; her dad served as mayor of the village and, as president of the school board for many years, was instrumental in getting a centralized school system approved and implemented. Jean’s mother, a vibrant, vocal and supportive wife, was also an active participant in the life of the village and local church and devoted to properly raising her four beautiful and popular daughters.
Almost 95 years later, on a sunny spring morning at Kendal on Hudson in Sleep Hollow in her cozy, comfortable apartment with commanding, spectacular, sweeping views of the magnificent Hudson River and the breathtaking Palisades as a backdrop, Jean with her keen mind, candor and humor, reminisced and shared an amazing, to date, life’s journey.
And so we begin: Jean spent her childhood in a warm and loving home where, around the dinner table, frequent though provoking, stimulating discussions on politics, education and any other topic of interest were common occurrences and, as Jean tells it, they always seemed to be active and involved. She fondly recalled many road trips the family took; the memory of a particular one with all six of them in the old Reo (complete with window shades and a tiny vase mounted on the rear interior wall) heading for Chicago to visit family and friends, brought a big smile to her face.
Popular and friendly, Jean formed many friendships and relationships within the small village; surviving
members for a close group of eight girls formed early in youth remain in touch today through correspondence and telephone calls. She sang in the glee club at school and the choir at church, was a Naples High cheerleader, a French horn player in the marching band, and a member and leader of the 4-H club, to name a few of the interests and activities that kept her days of youth busy, fun and exciting.
Completing elementary and high school in Naples’s public school system, it was off to college for the beautiful and outgoing young woman! Keuka College for Women, on the shores of Keuka Lake, was her choice, and true to her nature, Jean became involved in many campus activities. Always a good student, she continued to excel in her studies, and filled with the hopes, dreams and expectations of a twenty-one-year-old woman, she eagerly and happily graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in English as a member of the Class of 1941.
In the fall of that year, she began her first “grown-up” job, a two year employment as a high school English teacher in South Onondaga, New York, receiving an annual salary of $1100, with a whopping $75 raise in the second year. Coinciding with this period was the state of unrest in the world and the United States’ involvement in World War ll.