News & Reviews

Doug Otto: a tough act to follow

From The Republic: Columbus, Indiana – April 4, 2012

Doug Otto delivered a semi-swan song at the annual meeting of the United Way of Bartholomew County on Tuesday.

The veteran United Way administrator and community activist sang the last part of his farewell address, with a revised and localized version of Bob Hope’s “Thanks for the Memories.”

It was an emotional capstone to a career in which he and the community he served underwent a dramatic transformation.

In some respects, the annual meeting was a formal changing of the guard, although his successor as president of the local United Way, Columbus native Mark Stewart, has been on the job several weeks.

Actually, Otto had given the United Way board ample opportunity to conduct a thorough search process, announcing his retirement plans almost a year to the day before the official changeover.

Although he has given up the title and authority that accompany the position, the former industrial manager has indicated he will continue to be involved in the United Way and the community that has been his home for more than three decades.

In fact, he still will be something of a fixture in the United Way headquarters building that was named in his honor last year, moving into another office there and serving in a consulting capacity.

The annual meeting marks a transition not only in leadership but in management style, one to which the United Way agencies and staffers and the community at large might need time to adjust.

Stewart, who had been president of the Indianapolis office of Southeast Neighborhood Development since 2005, is seen as someone who will bring a managerial approach to the new job.

Otto’s methods throughout his 17-year tenure in the position were personal. In some respects, he came to be seen as the face of the United Way.

He even acknowledged that in his final comments Tuesday, citing conflicting descriptions of his style and acknowledging that the good and not-so-positive characteristics were rooted in reality.

Otto was unquestionably the biggest cheerleader for United Way in Bartholomew County. Some would say his style was instrumental in the record-breaking results of annual fund drives in his tenure, most notably the $3.75 million that was generated in the 2011 campaign.

But he was also deeply involved in many organizational changes and developments that made the agency and its members much more efficient and more capable of serving a wide variety of community needs.

One of his most important legacies, especially at this critical time in the community, has been his advocacy for early childhood development, an effort that has gained tremendous ground over the past few years.

One of the themes that was prominently displayed throughout The Commons during the meeting was embodied in the words, “big shoes to fill.”

In Doug Otto’s case, there is an appropriate companion saying: “a tough act to follow.”

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