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Josephine Otto

April 11, 1923 - November 13, 2023

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In her 100th year, Jo Otto advised, “You can’t be young again. If there’s something you want to do, do it now.” Jo lived that advice. If she wanted to do something, she did – and did it well. Jo was an enthusiastic traveler, consummate entertainer, dedicated cook, talented seamstress, successful gardener, confident dancer, avid reader, secret poet, and champion cruciverbalist.

Small but mighty, Jo’s motto was “choose happiness.” She made that choice look easy. Jo deeply loved Earl, her husband of 65 years; their relationship brought her great joy.

Jo was bright, energetic, feisty, creative, outgoing, chatty, and always quirky. She made friends everywhere and talked with all she encountered, including pigeons and squirrels. She was kind, generous, and actively sought out ways to help others. Jo never had a bad word to say about anyone and uncritically accepted her children’s friends, spouses, and life choices.

Jo loved the outdoors and was an active walker until the end. She spent decades as a member of Monday Morning Hikers and was proud of the many trails she walked and mountains she climbed. After her hiking days were over, Jo enjoyed daily walks in her Ravenna neighborhood, admiring its abundant flowers and trees. She loved bringing nature indoors. In recent years, her passion was collecting colorful leaves that “wanted to be picked up.” Jo died from falling while picking up her last leaf.

Jo was incredibly upbeat and could always find a silver lining. She inevitably responded to “how are you” with “wonderful!” At the hospital, though she was in obvious pain, she told doctors and nurses she felt wonderful. Asked why she hid her struggles, Jo said, “Nobody likes a complainer.”

Jo was irreverent, funny, and could turn anything into a joke. She loved banter and made flirting an art form. Jo constantly burst into song or poetry. Her last words were “don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me.”

Jo had firm rules for living. They included, “Never apologize, never explain.” “Never put anything in writing you don’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.” “I’ll do anything you ask me to do and nothing you tell me to do.” “Never pass up the opportunity to use a bathroom.” A long time Girl Scout leader, Jo worked hard “to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong.”

Jo wasn’t perfect. She was stubborn and, according to her, always right. She had a hair-trigger temper and followed through on every ultimatum. She could be emotionally distant and handled conflict poorly. Even so, her anger faded as quickly as it came and her distance stemmed from valuing logic and rules more than feelings.

Jo often spoke about how much she loved her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and how proud she was of them all. In the hospital before her death, Jo told every doctor, nurse, and caretaker, often more than once, she’d had a good and lucky life, with a wonderful husband, and children who loved her and who she loved. She’d finish by saying, “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Jo expressed her thoughts on turning 100 in poetry:

When you are young

Life is joy.

Years don’t mean a thing.

When old folks speak of aging

You close your ears and sing.

 

Yet, when many years have passed

Life is a surprise.

You still take pleasure in a song

But you are much more wise.

 

So remember youth.

Remember –

That though time moves along

You still have joy.

You still have love.

You still can sing a song.

 

Josephine Florence Risk was born April 11, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio to Samuel Risk and Jennie Diamond. She met Earl Patterson Otto, then a sailor, at a USO dance in Washington DC and married him on November 25, 1944. Earl and Jo lived in California and Oregon before moving to Bremerton in 1954. When Earl died on March 29, 2009, Jo moved from Bremerton to Ida Culver House in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood where she lived until her death on November 13, 2023.

Jo is survived by children Linda Otto Maloney Iovine, William “Bill” Otto (Tommie Corona), Laurie Otto Constantino (Steven), and Marnie Otto Silbergeld (Daniel); grandchildren Wendy Jarett Scheid, Tom Maloney, Amy Silbergeld (Aaron Sunshine), and Sam Silbergeld (Samantha Yee); great-grandchildren Brady and Kylie Scheid; and sister Ali Risk Bresnahan. She was predeceased by siblings Rae, EB, Fred, Marian, and Don.

At Jo’s request, there won’t be a funeral or memorial service.