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CLASS OF '64  


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In Memory of Robert Ostergen

Class of 1964
Lee-Davis High School

        Robert M. Ostergren, longtime registrar for Hanover, dies at 65 Story Comments REGI30A 12972371.JPG Robert M. Ostergren Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:00 am | Updated: 11:56 am, Tue Oct 22, 2013. RANDY HALLMAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch He was a computer enthusiast. He once told a reporter he had about 10 computers at home. But when it came to voting — democracy's great act of faith and the cornerstone of his professional life — Bobby Ostergren was not one to leap unchecked into the touch-screen era. In 2004, when much of the nation was phasing out paper ballots, he acknowledged the aggravation of handling paper on Election Day, then added, "but, if something goes wrong, you've got the paper ballots to look at. With touch screens, you don't. I'm really edgy about going that route." Robert M. Ostergren of Mechanicsville always wanted things done right, especially the voting process in Hanover County, where he was general registrar for 23 years. Mr. Ostergren died Friday after a brief, intense battle with cancer. He was 65. A funeral will be held today, Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m. at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church at 3601 Seminary Ave. on Richmond's North Side. Mr. Ostergren's identical twin brother, Howard F. Ostergren, said, "For Bobby, being registrar was working for everybody. He was very keen on fair elections. There was no cheating; nobody took advantage of the process. He was a stickler for the law." And he was a stickler for accuracy. During the move from mechanical to digital voting, Mr. Ostergren grumbled, "Lever machines have the lowest error rate of all, so of course they decide we need to get rid of it — that's the government for you." Hanover County Administrator Cecil R. "Rhu" Harris Jr. said Mr. Ostergren guided the county with caution. "He understood the need for automation," Harris said, "but he wanted to have a fail-safe if automation let you down." Hanover would go to a system that has voters mark a paper ballot and scan it through a machine that reads and counts the votes. The tallies are instant, but if there is a problem, the paper ballots are there to be recounted. "Bobby was a great asset to the county," Harris said. Mr. Ostergren graduated from Lee-Davis High School, where he and his twin brother were athletes. As gangly 6-foot-4 basketball players, they got a kick out of the confusion they sometimes caused for opponents and referees. Teachers were susceptible, too. Howard said, "One day I was playing hooky. My teacher didn't know I had a twin, and he saw Bobby playing at recess. He went and dragged him off the playground and into his class. Then Bobby's teacher came in and said, 'I want my twin back.' "We didn't take tests for each other, or anything like that, but we did show up in each other's place sometimes — the usual twin things." The two never lost their enthusiasm for being twins. They lived together and often traveled together. For decades they were regulars an annual August gathering of twins in Twinsburg, Ohio. And each mirrored the other's devotion to Ginter Park Presbyterian, where both were elders. They served on the property committee as carefully as if the church were their own home, which in a sense it has been. When the Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes became pastor of Ginter Park Presbyterian four years ago, she soon learned what an asset the twins were for the church. "It was always great to know you could call on one of the Ostergrens," she said. "They were always willing to come. They could always deal with what needed to get done." She recalled the Ostergrens trading early-morning shifts cooking breakfast when the church was host for the homeless. Preparing a meditation for his funeral today, she wrote, "I asked Bobby what he was proudest of as he thought about his long career in public service. He said, 'I looked out for the people. I stood up for them.'?" Mr. Ostergren studied physics at Virginia Commonwealth University and was a Vietnam War Army veteran. He suffered serious shrapnel wounds to his leg when his unit was surrounded by enemy forces for 24 hours in a deadly firefight. Though he was proud of his military service, Mr. Ostergren didn't wear the Purple Heart he earned as a result of the shrapnel wound. He felt that others deserved the honor more for their bravery. After he recovered, he managed a club for enlisted soldiers. Later, he would say his management skills came in handy as registrar. He was proud, too, of his knowledge of Hanover. He would sometimes correct lines drawn electronically for election districts because, for example, he could spot a quarter-mile error in the electronic version of where a road crossed a creek. Late in 2010, when he was preparing to retire as registrar at the end of the year, he said he knew the county "like the back of my hand." In addition to his twin, Mr. Ostergren is survived by another brother, John W. Ostergren Jr.; and a sister, JoAnne O. Yates, both of Mechanicsville.

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