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‘Right to the end, he was funny’: World War II veteran, typhoon survivor dies at 95

Charles Chas Roger Otto died surrounded by his family on Thursday. (Laura Varon Brown/TNS)

He was a World War II Navy electrician, survived a Pacific Ocean typhoon and his witty sense of humor provided joy to all.

Charles “Chas” Roger Otto, 95, died surrounded by his family on Thursday in his home in Hilman, Michigan.

He was born on Sept. 21, 1925.

Otto joined the military in 1943 in the midst of World War II. He worked as a U.S. Navy electrician and — like many seamen during the war — Otto belonged to the ocean and didn’t see land for more than two years.

During his time in the Navy, he was abroad on the USS Callaghan, which was attached to Admiral William F. Halsey’s fleet.

One day, a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean capsized three other ships but spared Otto’s small destroyer. He said only a surplus of fuel saved him and the other sailors aboard, according to his family.

After his time in the military, Otto worked for Detroit Edison for more than 40 years as a substation operator. His children remember him being a stickler about leaving lights on, saying, “He would go around the house, counting as he turned them off — a trait passed on to his children.”

Along with being a skillful electrician, Otto started and ran a construction company called Charles Otto Builders. His family said his work ethic was unmatched as he worked two full-time jobs simultaneously.

He built apartments, shopping centers, and nursing homes across metro Detroit.

Otto went above and beyond for the people he loved. In his late 70s, Otto built a residential assisted living center called Hillman’s Haven specifically for his mother-in-law so she could have a peaceful and safe place to live.

Otto lived in Mt. Clemens along the Clinton River with his ex-wife, Myrtle, and their children. The family spent warm Michigan summers boating and cold winters skiing. After retiring, Otto moved north and remarried his wife, Carol.

Otto’s daughter, Laura Varon Brown, a former editor at the Detroit Free Press, said “He instilled in us a work ethic that was simply unmatched. Every day he would ask us, ‘What have you done for the Otto Empire today?’ But he took time to make sure we enjoyed the water in the summer and snow skiing in the winter. Golf became his passion in his 80s when skiing wasn’t such a smart idea.”

He and Carol Otto traveled and enjoyed playing golf, playing until he was 93.

Brown said there’s so much she’ll miss her father’s wit.

“Right to the end, he was funny. We call them Dadisms. When I was going on one of my first dinner dates as a young adult, as I was going out the door, he said, ‘Remember, he doesn’t take you to dinner because he likes to watch you eat,’” she said. “He was fiercely protective of his children. After my husband, Jim, died when I was 29 years old, I remarried and my dad said, ‘Did it ever occur to you to marry a man with his own toolbox?’ My dad could fix anything!”

There’ll be a celebration of life in the spring at the Green Funeral Home in Hillman with a luncheon and opportunity to play golf.

Otto is survived by his wife, Carol; daughters Janet Johnson, Katy Knowles and Laura Varon Brown; sons Chuck and Joel Otto; stepchildren, Curt Tebo, Andy Tebo, and Lisa Barrie; 15 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and one great, great-grandchild.

He was predeceased by wives Mary, Anne and Myrtle. He is predeceased by his sister Delores Wosik and parents, Laura and Charles Otto.


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