Beloved music teacher, Mr. O, leaves lasting legacy

Joe Ostenson died Sunday at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife, Frances (right), and their daughter Jenn.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Joe Ostenson, affectionately known as “Mr. O,” literally affected thousands of lives in a positive way in the last half-century. Ostenson was 78 years old when he died of natural causes Sunday, Jan. 3. He is survived by his wife, Frances, and daughter, Jenn. 

Ostenson was a music instructor for 46 years in the Hollister School District and along with Frances ran Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts for eight years in downtown before the Hollister institution closed permanently in July 2020. Judging by the tremendous response from the community, Mr. O has left a legacy that will last long after his passing. 

“The massive outpouring of condolences, well wishes and stories have been quite uplifting,” Jenn said. “They have brought tears of laughter and tears of joy. It is a bittersweet time. We had known he was in failing health for quite some time (after taking a bad fall in December), and unfortunately this was expected.”

Mr. O was known for treating everyone with dignity and care, making them feel valued in the process. The diversity of students in his academy ranged from as young as 8 years old to 80, a testament to Ostenson’s ability to connect with people of all ages. He instructed for so many years that elementary and middle school kids he used to teach while in the Hollister School District decades later enrolled their own kids into Mr. O’s Academy. 

Ostenson led city-wide parades and concerts, which made him front and center at a number of community events. At 6-foot-5, Ostenson was literally and figuratively a towering figure in the community, all driven by his love for music and his uncanny ability to teach it and make it fun for everyone who came under his tutelage. 

“My dad’s biggest asset was he found talent in everyone,” Jenn said. “You could be the worst player and he could still find a part for you to play. He was very big on the fact that you could play music until you were 70 or 80 years old, that it was something you could take your entire life. Whereas in other activities like football, the body wears out and you can only play it for so many years.”

When Joe and Frances opened Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts in 2012, they did a fundraising drive to keep the elementary music program in the Hollister School District from being axed due to budget issues. His love for music and people was apparent every time he conducted a lesson. 

“He basically made everyone feel important and taught them lessons about improving their craft and being disciplined along the way,” Jenn said. “People are really resonating with that.”

Joe Ostenson, a 46-year music instructor in the Hollister School District and co-founder of Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts,
could often be seen out in the public leading band performances at Dunne Park. File photo.