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Obituaries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 8, 2009

David F. Cowan

ALTAMONT — David Cowan, who always put in more than he took out, died on Christmas morning. He was 88.

Born on Maple Avenue in Altamont, Mr. Cowan was the son of a mailman and a schoolteacher — the late Millard E. and Edna H. Cowan. “She was always there, keeping close tabs,” said Gail Cowan Wariner, Mr. Cowan’s daughter.

After the family moved to a farm about a mile outside of the village, Mr. Cowan would walk home from school during his lunch break to milk the cows.

As a young man, Mr. Cowan wanted to be a pilot. He joined the Army Air Force as a navigator and served in World War II. During a flight over the English Channel, “Dad and the pilot were the only ones who survived out of the crew,” said Lisa Cowan, his youngest daughter.

The others had parachuted from the plane, but Mr. Cowan and Frank Lebus, from Longview, Texas, remained. “We’d hear that Texan drawl and know it was Dad’s buddy from the war,” Ms. Wariner said of phone calls throughout her childhood.

When he returned home, Mr. Cowan went to the University of Tennessee. On July 6, 1946, he married Frances Eliza Severson. The couple had gone to school together and kept in touch through the war, their daughters said.

“They were quite the couple,” said Ms. Cowan. “They were truly soul mates.”

Both Mr. Cowan and his wife had an affection for things that grow green — she with dozens of plants and he with vegetable gardens and farmland. Mr. Cowan grew sweet corn on his property at the corner of G.I. Road and Route 146, Ms. Wariner said, and “city folk would come out and help themselves.” So, she said, he planted the cows’ corn on the edge and the sweet corn inside.

“He wasn’t a person you’d find sitting unless he was watching the car races on Sunday afternoon,” Ms. Cowan said. Her father was very fond of fixing up old cars and racing them at Watkins Glen and Limerock, Conn. In 1970, he got his favorite car, a Corvette LT1. He bought it new, she said, “and drove it till he was 82.”

When he took on the family business, Severson Insurance Agency, which he moved to the old train station at the center of the village in 1971, cars became part of his career. “He would always be there for the people when there was an accident,” Ms. Wariner said, any time of the day. “He loved work,” Ms. Cowan said.

Beyond his own work, Mr. Cowan served as a volunteer fireman for 25 years and as a Republican committeeman in Guilderland.

Always a sportsman, Mr. Cowan “had amazing trips and adventures,” Ms. Wariner said. He hunted deer, pheasant, and quail and took several fishing trips to Canada — once going as far as the Arctic Circle.

Some of his greatest fishing adventures, though, were in Ogunquit, Maine with his good friend Porter Bidleman on a 33-foot lobster boat called Hole in the Head. “They would often be seen leaving Perkins Cove with Dave’s lab, Mel, on board,” his family wrote in a tribute. “They made local news catching a monster sunfish.”

“Most of all he enjoyed the pond that Harry Armstrong dug in the front of his home and often could [be found] throwing in a line with his grandchildren,” his family wrote. “Friends of all ages would join him.”

“He always had a smile on his face,” said Ms. Wariner.

“He really loved life and lived it,” Ms. Cowan said. “He was so kind, so giving.”


Mr. Cowan is survived by his wife of 62 years, Frances Severson Cowan, and four children: Lisa H. Cowan, of Altamont; Martha Clark, of Brunswick, Maine; David E. Cowan, of Altamont; and Gail Cowan Wariner, of Park City, Utah. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter: Aaron Jensen; Leslie Hersh; David Jensen and his daughter, Sasha Jensen; Lindsay, Whitney, and Paul Clark; Lauren and Seth Canetto; Zachary, Christopher, and Matthew Cowan.

His sister, Jean Edgerton, who had lived in West Virginia, died before him, as did his brother, Robert Cowan, who had lived in Rochester.

His funeral was held on Dec. 30, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont, with arrangements by the Fredendall Funeral Home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Altamont Free Library, Post Office Box 662, Altamont, NY 12009, or to the Alzheimer’s Association of Albany.

Saranac Hale Spencer

Richard Warren Otto

An IBM worker and Air Force veteran, Richard “Dick” Warren Otto, is described by his family as “a loving and devoted husband,” an “exemplary father,” and “a proud grandfather.”

He died on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009, while surrounded by his family at his home in Raleigh, N.C. He was 76.

Mr. Otto was born in Queens on Jan. 21, 1932, to Paul Jerome Otto and Jeannette Alan Quinn.

His family moved to Altamont when he was 5 years old, said his wife, Joan Otto. “Both of his parents worked for New York State,” she said. “They lived on Dunnsville Road and were very active in the volunteer fire department and in St. John’s Lutheran Church.”

Mr. Otto enjoyed his Altamont boyhood, she said. He worked at Osterhout’s, a short-order food and drink place by the railroad tracks, she said.

“I lived in Knox,” said Mrs. Otto, who was then Joan Van Wormer. “We met at a basketball game at the Berne-Knox School.”

Mr. Otto graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in 1950 and immediately joined the United States Air Force. He wanted to serve his country, his wife said.

The high-school sweethearts married in 1952. “We were young,” said Mrs. Otto. “I was 18 and he was 20.”

Their happy marriage lasted 56 years, until his death.

Mr. Otto worked for International Business Machines and his family described him as “an IBM family member.” He worked with computers, writing diagnostic programs, his wife said. The Ottos moved to Raleigh in 1966, and Mr. Otto retired in 1991 after 35 years with IBM.

Mr. Otto liked golfing and, in the 1980s, joined a group at the course near his home. He was a leader of Wildwood Green’s Wildoats. “He was very organized,” said his wife. “He always had his little clipboard and got everything rolling.”

Mr. Otto was also a founding member of the Little German Band’s Dance Group. He and Mrs. Otto both enjoyed doing ethnic dances with the group, she said, including waltzing and shuplatting, which Mrs. Otto described as “flopping of the shoe.”

“He was the best,” Mrs. Otto said of her husband’s dancing. “It was fun.”

Mr. Otto enjoyed other artistic pursuits as well. “His creative talent for drawing, painting, and photography will live on through his family who will dearly miss him,” his family wrote in a tribute.

Mrs. Otto concluded by describing her husband as “loving, devoted, and proud — a really good man.”


Richard Warren Otto is survived by his wife, Joan; his children, Michael and Maury Otto; Susan and Bob Rodgers; Daniel and Donna Otto; and Paul and Cyndy Otto; his grandchildren, Becky, Elyse and Meredith, and Will and Lauren; and his great-grandchildren, Sarah Quinn and Quay.

The Browne-Wynne Funeral Home in Raleigh, N.C. handled arrangements. Tributes may be made at Brown-Wynne.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, Post Office Box 451429, Atlanta, GA 31145-9429, or to the Autism Society of North Carolina, 505 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, NC 27605, or to the Hospice of Wake County, 1300 Saint Mary’s St., Raleigh, NC 27605.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

John W. Whitbeck

PRESTON HOLLOW — A musician, John W. Whitbeck began piano lessons at age 5, and by the time he was 7, he could accompany his mother in piano duets.

He died on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, at his home in Preston Hollow. He was 73.

Born in Schoharie on Jan.7, 1935 he taught himself to play accordion and learned guitar in the Army.

“John’s fiddle interest began while recuperating from a broken ankle,” his family wrote in a tribute. “Out of boredom, he took a fiddle from the wall, and, with his neighbor’s help, tuned it up and drove his family crazy for about a year; then, he began to ‘sweeten up.’

“Hilton Kelly and Stephan Grapelli have provided inspiration for John. John has played with several bands, including Peaceful Country, Big River Band, Country Kings, Mountain Rose Trio, and the Del-Se-Nango Fiddlers. He was an accomplished banjo, mandolin, keyboard and bass player, but his favorite spot was playing harmony to other fiddlers.”

Mr. Whitbeck was an Army veteran, and remained in the Reserves until 1962. He was the proprietor of Whitbeck’s Service Station in Cooksburg, founded by his father in 1947.

He served as president of the board of education of Middleburgh Central Schools during the 1970s. He was a member of James M. Austin Lodge 557, Free and Accepted Masons, and was a Scottish Rite 32nd Degree Mason.

Mr. Whitbeck was a master model builder and built over 400 World War II model aircraft. He was a World War II historian and member of the Rensselaerville Historical Society. “John drove a bus in the Greenville Schools for the last four years and was loved by all,” his family wrote. “John will be remembered as a beloved husband and father.”

He is survived by his children, John, Bill, Scott, Becky and Bridget; grandchildren, Erin, Jayna, and Nicole; one great-grandson, Dylan; one brother, Pete; and nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. His wife of 42 years, Catherine Sparrow Whitbeck, died in 1996.

Calling hours will be at Cunningham Funeral Home, 4898 Route 81, Greenville, NY 12083 on Saturday, Jan. 10, from 3 until 8 p.m. James M. Austin Lodge 557 will conduct a Masonic Ritual Service at 7:30 p.m. As he requested, he was cremated privately, and his ashes will be buried at a later date in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to Community Hospice of Albany County, 445 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205.

Frederick “Rick” W. Wilson II

KNOX — Frederick “Rick” W. Wilson II of Knox died peacefully Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 with family at his side after a long illness. He was 60. He had spent the day doing what he loved — fishing in the Florida Keys.

Born in Albany, he was the son of the late Frederick W. and Virginia Wilson.

He was a Vietnam War veteran, and a proud member of American Legion Post 977. He worked in the railroad industry for 30 years, beginning his career with Penn Central in Selkirk, before advancing to Downingtown, Pa. with Conrail. He went on to work for CSX in Jacksonville, Fla. retiring as the Chief Mechanical Officer — Locomotives in 2000, and returned to upstate New York to live on his farm in Knox.

He was an avid hunter and fisherman who caught (and released) more than 20 fish on his last day, and a devoted father who raised his boys to treat people the way they wanted to be treated. He loved nature, working his farm, putzing around, and spending his free time with his wife and best friend, Judi, and his sons.

He will be remembered as a patient man who taught his sons, nieces, and nephews how to water ski behind his boat on Canandaigua Lake and pitch a tent in the Adirondacks.

More than anything, he will be remembered for his strength and hearty grin.


Frederick W. Wilson II is survived by his wife, Judith A. Wilson; his three sons Stephen F. Wilson and his wife, Eileen; Frederick W. Wilson III, and Brian W. Wilson; sister Barbara Snitchler and her husband, Norman, and brother Kevin Wilson; and grandsons Andrew S. and Colin P. Wilson.

— Maggie Gordon

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