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Life Story / Obituary
Charles E. Osborne lived a long and rich life as husband, father, teacher and camper. We, his three children, John, Mary and Janet, want you to know about him.
We knew him as Dad, on the camping trail he was “Bald Eagle” or “Chicken Charlie” (he was safety oriented). To everyone else he was just Charlie.
He was born in 1928, December 24th in the East Grand Rapids home of Dr. Charles and Mildred Osborne. He grew up in Vicksburg, Michigan with his sister Sally. They went to local schools where Dad learned music. The war was on, so local jazz bands hired him to play tenor sax, clarinet or drums. He was always the youngest, but he impressed the older players with his skills.
After high school, Dad went to Michigan State University, proudly earning his doctorate in Music Education, then embarked on a thirty-four-year career teaching flute at Western Michigan University. He also taught many private lessons over the years. His teaching was firmly rooted in patience, kindness, and unwavering faith in people. Through his own example, he instilled a love of learning in others. His was a noble profession – passing on knowledge – to us and to others.
While studying at MSU, Dad met his beloved Dorothy. One day, from his practice room, Dad heard another flute playing down the hall. Thinking he heard a kindred spirit, he grabbed his music, knocked on the door of Dorothy's practice room, and asked her if she wanted to play some duets. As they played together, it became clear they were destined for one another.
They soon married and welcomed their children John, Mary and Janet into the family. Dad did what good Dads do. He provided for us and proudly nurtured, guided and taught us. He led by example. He worked, but had fun, too.
Our father was humorous, liking all kinds of jokes and really bad puns. He used props, too. A suction-cup faucet showed up anywhere, including stuck to his face once when John was a toddler. It got laughs, and for weeks later, too. The suction cup left a perfectly circular bruise centered on his forehead!
Before cellphones, Dad had a fake phone. Often while hiking, he would make it ring, answer it, hand it to another hiker and say “it’s for you.” One day, he picked up the wrong end of an open bag of peanuts, which exploded all over the kitchen. We and he erupted in laughter. Even years later, he laughed as hard as we did. He took his marriage, job, kids, friends and students seriously, but never took himself too seriously. We took that to heart, and we are better for it.
Dad taught us we should be mature only when maturity is needed, leaving the rest of the time for being fun-loving, playful, child-like, even silly. Dad was mature when appropriate but showed us the child has many attributes that should linger in the adult. He never said any of that, he just did it. It worked for him, we saw it, and now it works for us, too.
Dad liked learning, too. He was a voracious reader. Fond of thrillers, spy stories, and adventure stories. He read every book on hiking, also catalogs, manuals, and guides. We are readers, too. Mary became a librarian. He learned to conquer his fear of heights by ziplining in Haiti with his daughter Mary. He played for many years in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. He was also a co-founder of the woodwind quintet and played many recitals with them across Michigan. Long after retiring from Western, he kept playing recitals, church services, and always, private lessons. He knew you learn when you do and when you teach.
Our father was father to others, too. He was Dad to the mates we brought into our family. He was father to his students (who showed up everywhere). He encountered one on a hiking trail and gave a music lesson on the spot! Several students became life-long friends. He was active as an adult leader in Boy Scouts for many years, and later, Girl Scouts. He was partial father to many, many young people. We were proud to share our father.
Our father cooked – a bit. He used a grill burning newspapers known as a Safari Grill, to make “Charlie-burgers.” If overcooked they were “Charred burgers” - still good. As kids, our job was to wad up the newsprint used as fuel. We knew fine eating would follow. He used it often at home. Later we hauled it all over the USA as a treasured piece of camping equipment. It started in the '60s but still has a cult following. Charlie-burgers would be great right now.
Camping (and hiking) came to Dad a bit later in life. Mom got Dad started. First trip: fiasco. Borrowed equipment, late arrival, no experience, darkness, 5 tries to get the tent up, fussy stove, hunger, late dinner, bug bites, rain, rough night, packing up everything wet. Dad declared “Never again.” That did not mean the end of camping. It meant never again did we go without first trying and tweaking all the equipment and practicing the procedures in our back yard. We tried again. We started close to home, then saw a lot of Michigan, upper and lower. We got so we could make or break camp with speed, efficiency, ease and barely a word spoken. We kids were fully involved and knew what to do. We were a family, a team, and proud of it.
In Dad's methodical way, we then ventured further. We did Florida twice, East once, and West many times. We were a mountain family. It was the Tetons and Rockies for us. We saw a lot of national parks. We were gone for 4-6 weeks most summers. When we returned home, we went to our separate rooms and stayed there. As great as camping was, it did lack one thing - privacy.
Camping with John and the Boy Scouts for the first time, Dad complained constantly. But something switched on and he volunteered for every camp-out after that, even the miserable winter ones. He was hooked on Scouting, earning badges, plaques and commendations for exemplary assistance as adult leader. All his patches and awards covered the longest wall in our basement.
Camping continued with Mary, Janet and the Girl Scouts. Any excuse to camp was fine with him and everyone was pleased he felt that way. So, he camped with Scouts during the school year and our family in the summer. Janet was a reluctant hiker, but Dad gave her LifeSavers candy, one by one, to keep her going. She soon became an avid hiker – LifeSavers no longer needed.
Camping led to hiking. Of course, hiking with Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and the big one, the Appalachian trail. Its 2,200 miles and Dad did about half of it, in several segments over several years, but in strict order from the start in Georgia. (Dad was methodical.) He did much of it with his hiking partner “Old Blue” who turned into a lifelong friend.
Camping at Isle Royale, Michigan's only national park, was another favorite. He went with his grandson Steve who kept asking "Why are we doing this?" Abruptly, they were standing on a high cliff overlooking Lake Superior and Steve said "WOW!" Dad said "THAT’S WHY!"
Charlie and Dorothy shared 69 beautiful years together. We all celebrated a 50th-anniversary with a family get-together in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We watched as they renewed their wedding vows at a quaint chapel in the Grand Tetons National Park, then shared a spectacular dinner at the Gun Barrel Restaurant in downtown Jackson. More recently, our entire immediate family gathered at Friendship Village to celebrate Charlie’s 90th birthday in December of 2018.
After Charlie and Dorothy moved to Friendship Village, he often walked to Starbucks where every barista knew him as "Charlie, who only orders a small black coffee." Eventually, they presented him with his own mug with his name emblazoned on it. It was customary, as they spotted him crossing the parking lot, to perfectly time his coffee so that it was ready as he walked through the door. Simple pleasures...
Dad’s journey was music, teaching, family, hiking and camping.
Our journey continues.
Dad has left the trail.
Charles Osborne, Age 91, died December 13, 2020 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was born Dec. 24, 1928 in Grand Rapids, MI. the son of Charles and Mildred (Wing) Osborne. Charles was a full professor and taught flute at Western Michigan University for 34 years as well as being a member of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. He co-founded a woodwind quintet and played at many venues well after retirement.
Surviving are his wife of 69 years, Dorothy; children: John Osborne and wife Marie, Mary Kizer and husband Lance, and Janet Biles and her husband Bob; grandchildren: Steven Biles and Laura Graham; great-grandchildren: Cooper, Ethan and Thea Biles; and his sister Sally Grantvedt.