John H. Ostendorf, Vincennes University physics professor and faculty leader, whose fifty years of teaching was honored with a scholarship in his name, died on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at his lifelong home on Audubon Road in Vincennes. His death was confirmed by his wife Bunny.
John Ostendorf was born on November 13, 1944 to John A. Ostendorf and Dorothy Klemeyer Ostendorf. As a scion of long-established Vincennes German families, Ostendorf was a stalwart in local history organizations, including serving as an officer of the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society and Old Northwest Corporation.
He was instrumental in the archeological exploration and restoration of the Fort Knox II site. In honor of his contributions, Ostendorf was presented with the key to Fort Knox II. His fellow Fort Knox II activist and friend Jim Osborne said, “The thing about John is how meticulous he was. Once he got involved, he made sure everything came out right. He was a stickler for details. Everything was done correctly.” Committee member and friend John Harrison remembered Ostendorf saying, “Those years that we worked on the Fort Knox project were among the best times of my life.”
Ostendorf’s interest in genealogy led him to Bremen, Germany, the origin place of his maternal Klemeyer family, as well as the Ostendorf ancestral village of Dinklage, where his great-great-grandfather was a clockmaker, beginning a family tradition that continued in Vincennes through multiple generations in the J. & H. Ostendorf Jewelers on Main St. The family clock-making tradition informed Ostendorf’s collection of over a hundred antique clocks, which suffused their home with chimes marking the cadence of time.
A graduate of Central Catholic High School, Vincennes University, Rose Polytechnic Institute and Indiana State University, Ostendorf earned dual masters degrees in Physics (MS) and Business Administration (MBA). During his half-century at Vincennes University, Ostendorf served for seventeen years as department chair, and as vice president of the faculty senate. During critical times at VU, he was an engaged and outspoken member of the Vincennes University Faculty Association. In recognition of his outstanding faculty service, the university honored Ostendorf with the Blue and Gold Award. When he retired in May 2017 after fifty years of teaching, Vincennes University established the John H. Ostendorf Scholarship for Physics and Engineering. At his retirement, Ostendorf told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, “I’m very, very happy with my career. I like being a student. I like being a teacher.”[i]
Vincennes University President Charles R. Johnson wrote, “Professor Ostendorf was a legend among VU faculty not only for his amazing 50-year tenure, but also for his reputation as a dedicated faculty member who held his students to high standards in the demanding engineering curriculum. John was the kind of faculty member that students might grumble about while they were in his courses, but years later, would sing his praises for how well he prepared them for future study and career. John was also an integral part of VU’s partnership with the Chu Foundation and personally taught hundreds of Chu Scholars from the 1960s through the 1980s who left VU to attend some of the world’s best technical universities, like MIT, Purdue, Virginia Tech, UC Berkley, and others. On a personal note John was very approachable, with a quick wit and a hearty laugh. He was committed to academic excellence, but not at the expense of the humanity of education. He will be missed by me and by many generations of the VU family.”
An avid traveler, Ostendorf and his wife Bunny toured widely in Europe, as well as China, where he connected with some of his many international students, who studied under him on their way to success in the wider world. Former international student Alfonso Ip spoke for many when he wrote, “I gained a solid background and learned good methods of problem solving from him, on which I was able to branch out and build a career in the semiconductor industry. I am still a practicing engineer today. Professor Ostendorf paved the path for many young engineers. It was a great accomplishment and I am honored to be part of it.”
Each summer for fifteen years, Ostendorf photographed the wildlife and scenery of the American mountain West with his friend, VU philosophy professor Bernard J. Verkamp. Their shared interest inspired them to frequent many of Indiana’s wildlife havens. Vercamp recalled, “Apart from arguing about whether God is a philosopher, a physicist, or at least an engineer, we didn’t share much about our religious beliefs. But I’m sure that whatever hope John harbored for eternal happiness at the end of the road was quickened no less for him than it was for me by the mysterious profundity of the natural phenomena we experienced. I do recall him saying on occasion that he envisioned natural selectivity as God’s way of creating.”
Ostendorf is survived by his wife of fifty years, Bunny, née Carole Ann Wissing, as well as his daughter Kelly D. Jones, and grandchildren Ethan Michael Jones and Kiersten Marie Jones. He is also survived by his brother-in-law Douglas Wissing of Bloomington, Indiana, as well as nephews Dylan Wissing and his wife Dana Kroop Wissing of Hoboken, New Jersey, and Seth Wissing and his wife Erin Kenny of Seattle, Washington. Ostendorf is also survived by sister-in-law Leslie Wissing, her husband Joe Fagan and their daughter Wensley Wissing Fagan of West Newton, Massachusetts. Numerous Ostendorf and Klemeyer cousins also survive him.
A Memorial Mass will be held 11:00 am Thursday, November 1st at Old Cathedral with Rev. Donald Ackerman being Celebrant. Visitation will be at the Goodwin Funeral Home from 4-7 pm Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the John H. Ostendorf Scholarship for Physics and Engineering at Vincennes University. Online condolences can shared with the family at www.goodwinfamilyfh.com.