This I Believe: Dick Ottman (2016)


I want to first thank the Worship Committee for inviting me to speak.  In 1993, 23 years ago, I gave a “This I Believe” to this church where I presented two major themes.  I am an environmentalist and a believer in the lump sum method of teaching children money management.  As an environmentalist I brought a sample of the effluent from the wastewater treatment plant where I worked.  The lump sum method involved giving each of our children a fixed sum of money when they graduated from high school to attend college.  Both daughters spent six years in college obtaining advanced degrees.  Both daughters landed good paying jobs in their field of study when they graduated, and both daughters graduated with NO debt.  Both daughters lived within their lump sum and learned the lesson of how to budget their money.

I still believe in these two items.  Today I am going to present some additional beliefs.

A Sad Story with a Point

My mother was Margaret Shannon and my father was Phil Ottman, and they were married in 1937.  They had three children:  Jane, Bob and Dick.  When I was three years old my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died shortly after the diagnosis.  I have been told that it was a very sad funeral, a widower with three young children.  My grandmother Ottman acted as our mother for the next year.  I am eternally grateful and thankful to my grandmother Ottman with help from my aunt Connie for being my substitute mother for a year.  When I was four,  my father married a widow, Leone Lindsey Krieck, with three children (Nancy, Gary and Bette), who moved into our house.  Now I was the youngest of six children instead of the youngest of three children.

Now, fast-forward to 1993.  I was taking a class in building your own theology from our minister, Gail Seavey.  She asked us to describe a place from our childhood where we were always happy.  I quickly thought of my grandmother and grandfather Shannon’s house.  My grandfather Shannon was a beekeeper, and we frequently went there to purchase honey and on occasion I stayed overnight with my brother Bob.  I was allowed to do things in their house that I was not allowed to do at home.  I was always treated with special attention whenever I walked in their door.  When I asked my sister Jane (who looked exactly like our mother), how she was treated at grandmother and grandfather, Shannon’s house.  Her response was “I was treated like a princess”.

Because I had had children, it then dawned on me what was going on when I and my brother and sister walked into my grandparents’ house.  They were seeing their daughter in addition to their grand children.  They were still suffering from enormous grief from the loss of their daughter who died at the age of 37.  I believe that humans are wired so that they can handle the expected loss of an older person.  Parents put in an enormous amount of time, money and energy  plus an infinite amount of love raising children.  They are never able to fully handle the loss of a child.  To this day, I think fondly of my Grandmother and Grandfather Shannon whenever I put honey on my cereal.

I want to thank my Grandmother Lindsey who spent two hours on a bus several times a week to help do the housework and cook for the combined Ottman – Krieck family.

The First Methodist Church of Appleton, WI

There were many rules in our house when I was growing up.  Probably the most firm rule was “Thou shall attend church every Sunday at the First Methodist Church of Appleton, WI”.  We went to Sunday school for one hour starting at 9:15am and then the one hour church service starting at 10:45am.  There were absolutely NO excuses, as attendance was mandatory all the way through high school.  The good news was that we had excellent ministers.  Ralph Alton, Marvin Shilling, Ken Engelmann, and Gordon Sorenson were the ministers who left a lasting impression on my mind.  You can boil down what they were saying to the following: “You are lucky.  You were born into a nice middle class family, you are one of the lucky 15% in this world, and you have an opportunity to live a comfortable life.  Your mission on this earth is to help those who are not as fortunate as you were.  Do something with your life to make the world a better place to live”.  I believe in this.  I can still remember some of the words these men spoke nearly 60 years ago.

For the last 35 years one of the ways my wife Judy and I have made the world a better place is by giving generously to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) during the “Guest at your Table” program every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  All you do is write a check to WBUUC with UUSC in the memo line and place the check in the donation box near the office.  Checks of $125 or more are matched by a foundation.  The UUSC helps people in the US and around the world organize for sustainable agriculture, better drinking water, better health care, and women’s rights.  It follows the Seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association and has our name on it.  Whenever I write a check to the UUSC I can still hear Ralph Alton 60 years ago talking about the need for a well for a village in Korea.

What You Believe, is that which gets you Excited!

Russell Bletzer, the Unitarian minister at the Deerfield, IL, church stated that “your beliefs are the things that get you excited”.

To some people this is sports.  When I was young I followed the Milwaukee Braves, Green Bay Packers and my high school and college teams with a great deal of vigor.  When I got older and started raising children, then the results of the games were not as important.  It is just a game.

Some people get excited about money and possessions.  My philosophy on money is when you are earning money with a good paying job, then always be spending a lot less than your take home pay.  In addition, when you inherit money or receive an unexpected sum from the government, then save it.  Then when something bad happens, like the car needs to be replaced, or the furnace needs to be replaced, then the discussion becomes, “which account do we take the money out of to pay this unexpected bill” instead of borrowing money.  I much prefer earning interest, dividends and capital gains, than paying interest on a loan.


I believe in “payback”.  I will define “payback” as when you spend extra money to save money in the future.  For example, you are looking at two different models of refrigerators.  One model is $100 more than the other model.  But the more expensive model saves you $25 each year in electricity costs.  $25 divided into $100 is 4, or the payback is in four years.  Since the life of a refrigerator is 20+ years, then purchase the more expensive and more efficient model.

I will insist that if you add up all of the time, money and energy involved in raising our two children, that I had full and complete payback for each child before they graduated from high school.  One child achieved full payback with just two sentences on July 12, 1988, when I came home from a bad day at work.  I went up to my wife and said “Judith, they have accused me of telling a racial joke and they are going to hang me in public, as they are putting my name in the paper”.  Judith replied “Richard that is impossible, you are not capable of telling a racial joke.”  “I know, but that is what they are charging me with”.  One of our daughters over heard our conversation and said “Dad, I don’t care what they say about you.  I don’t believe them.”  At that moment when most of the people at work believed I was guilty, I was wonderful to have my family standing with me.  To finish the story an arbitrator threw out all of the charges against me, and all of the other managers listed in the newspaper article.  There was NO basis of fact in any of the charges.  The managers organized a Union, and I got paid a lot more money and my excellent health insurance coverage was extended to me for the rest of my life.  This allowed me to retire earlier.  I believe in unions, as I have organized two of them and have been President of one of them.  I believe that our two daughters were the best investment we ever made.  I believe that when you have enough money so you don’t have to worry about it, then there is no need to get excited about money and possessions.

What Gets Me Excited – Elections

My high holy day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November during even years.  I live for elections.  I have spent about the same number of hours working on election campaigns and doing work for the party, as I have spent in 34 years of earning a living.  Why do I do it?  First, elections have consequences.  For example, in 2008 I spent about 500 hours working for a candidate for US Senate, plus we gave him a generous financial donation.  During the 500 hours I talked to 2000 to 3000 residents of MN about the candidate.  After an eight  month recount that candidate won by 312 votes out of 2.9 million votes cast.  That new senator proceeded to help write the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare or the ACA), and cast the 60th vote that was required to pass the ACA.  If the other guy would have won, the ACA would NOT have passed, as it takes 60 votes in the US Senate to go to the bathroom.

Second, Social Action!  All of these things that our Social Action Committee in this church has advocated can be achieved if enough of the right people are elected to positions of power.

Third, Climate Change! If we do NOT stop burning coal, oil and natural gas in that order and soon, then life as we know it on this earth will NOT exist.  The 2016 election will probably be the most important election in my lifetime, just based on this issue and control of the US Supreme Court, as one candidate wants to do something about global warming and re-train the coal miners, and the other candidate wants to put more coal miners to work.  The problem is solvable with one piece of legislation passing the US congress and signed into law.

Fourth, pre-school education!  During the 2014 campaign knocking on doors in low income apartments I had a “road to Damascus conversion experience” for pre-school education for all children.  When I look at the pre-school education my grandson, William and my granddaughter Freya are getting, and I see these low income children.  Every single child in the state of MN and the US should have William and Freya pre-school education or equivalent from pre-natal to Kindergarten.  Economists tell us that the return on investment is 18%.  Not even Bernie Madoff can do that well on any investment.  I hold every single MN legislator and every Congress person and US Senator who is against doing this, morally and ethically responsible for every single one of these children.

Fifth, the people and the candidates involved in a campaign.  I personally know quite well all of the candidates I vote for with the exception of US President and a few judges.  I have made many friends while being involved in campaigns.

What this Church has done for me

We started coming to the church in 1977 when one daughter was four years old and the other daughter was not born yet.  None of our family lives near the Twin Cities.  Various members of this church acted as extra aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc in the raising of our children.  They helped pour extra self confidence into them when they were growing up.  I could name over 30 people from this church who were instrumental in providing extra self confidence to our children.  I am convinced that our children are able to stand on their own two feet both financially and mentally due to help from members of this church.  This is what every parent wants for their children, as they realize that they will not be around forever to help their children.  This is priceless.

When I was a manager at the Metropolitan Council, there were 14 different rules that employees could not discriminate against, such as race, creed, color, sex, sexual preference, age, religion, veteran’s status, etc.  I told people I supervised not to bother to try and remember all 14 items, just remember “to treat all persons with dignity and respect”.  This is a much higher standard for human interactions and I borrowed it from one of the UU principles.

I am not the most sensitive person and I was able to pick up pointers in sermons and talking to people that made me a more effective communicator and manager.

All of the friends we have in this church are wonderful.

I brought punch that will be served in the atrium after the service.