George Ostler:  Firefighter, historian, teacher passes on Monday

Wrote a column in the Chelsea Record for many years

If one ran into George Ostler at the Chelsea Public Library, or in the Market Basket, or anywhere else in the City, it was easy to see his mind was working hard on any number of history projects he might be working on – but he was never too busy for a big smile and a hearty ‘Hello’ at any moment.

Ostler, a former fire lieutenant in Chelsea and one of eight siblings that fought in World War II, passed away on Monday. He was the City’s pre-eminent historian and his daughter, former Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque, said his love of learning was contagious.

Life-long resident, historian, father and firefighter George Ostler passed away on Monday, the last of 12 siblings and
one of eight brothers that fought overseas during World War II – the most siblings to serve at once in all of America.
He was also a firefighter in Chelsea, and rose the rank of lieutenant, during some of the most tumultuous times for
fires in the City’s history.

“His love of learning and all things education was contagious,” she said. “He ran the New Teacher Orientation bus tours with me for years. So many teachers have reached out and shared how that tour oriented them and made them fall in love with Chelsea. He was always in the schools. He was a favorite guest speaker in the high school history classes on growing up in the Depression in a Chelsea and serving in WWII. He encouraged all of us to keep learning and growing. He was, simply remarkable.”

Bourque shared that one teacher, Cristina Tobar, had reached out to her – among many – with kind words.

“I have such wonderful memories of him and how he actually helped me kick start so much of my fascination with the history of Chelsea and using the available local history in my classes,” Tobar wrote to the family. “I had the opportunity to meet him a handful of times. I think he spoke to one of my classes really early on in my time in Chelsea and he often came to speak in other history classes, and always enjoyed being in the presence of the joy he brought and the eyes of love through which he saw our city. Thank you for sharing him with us in the district.”

Councilor Leo Robinson and his brother, Ron, spent a great deal of time with Ostler studying the history of Chelsea and the history of the African American community in Chelsea. He said they will miss Ostler.

“George was a historian to my brother and I,” he said. “We talked a lot about the history of Chelsea with him, which often related to the first African American firefighters and the Chelsea Fires of 1908 and 1973. He knew all of the history related to the City of Chelsea. George was a wonderful person and he’ll be sorely missed by my brother and I.”

He was also a long-time historical columnist of ‘Chelsea Now and Then’ for the Chelsea Record, which family members said was his favorite newspaper.

Ostler was the sixth son of the late Leon and Lillian Ostler of Chelsea. They were parents to a total of 12 children (11 sons and one daughter, all now deceased). He attended the Cary School, with a double promotion skipping 6th grade. Then it was on to the Williams School, and Chelsea High School class of 1938. Always an avid reader, lover of history and supporter of education, he received his Associates Degree from North Shore Community College in his 50s.

He was inducted into the US Army Infantry in 1942, and was honorably discharged in December of 1945 at the rank of Master Sergeant. His time in uniform brought him through Normandy, Northern France, in the Battle of the Bulge, and into the Rhineland.  A good conduct medal, Victory Medal, European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign ribbon were just a few of the decorations he received. He was one of eight brothers who all served in WW2 at the same time, the most of any American family.  His oldest brother, Charles J. was killed in action in Cassino, Italy. The younger of two sets of twins in the family who weren’t old enough to serve in WW2 fought The Korean War along with a few of their older WW2 brothers who re-enlisted for Korea.  That brought the number of Ostler family sons who saw service to America to 10.

He was married in 1947, and moved to Murray Street where he raised his family. In 1955, he became a Chelsea firefighter and served through some of the busiest years for the fire service in the city’s history. There were conflagrations, multiple rag shop fires, three decker fires and the Blizzard of “78,” not to mention a cat caught in a tree. He retired in 1986 at the age of 65. 

Always physically active with an incredibly sharp mind, he continued his dedication to the City of Chelsea. Retirement did not slow him down; often referred to as the Chelsea Historian, he served as a volunteer researcher and member of the Board of Trustees at Chelsea Public Library.  He had his own space carved out for him in the back room of the basement of the library.  There he sat among the dusty archives and microfiche and fielded a variety of questions that would come into city hall or the library.  He located lost family members, identified resting places, found veterans to be included in monuments, provided background for authors writing about Chelsea and answered questions from persons far and away regarding a myriad of things Chelsea.

He wrote and even lectured extensively about the history of Chelsea, and eventually put his talents to good use with a weekly column in the Chelsea Record entitled “Chelsea Now and Then.”  From that column grew a program on Chelsea Community Television, again entitled “Chelsea Now and Then.”

His great love was for the restoration and continued enhancement of the Governor Bellingham-Cary house. As the Cary House Curator Emeritus, Ostler worked with a dedicated, caring team of preservationists, historians, and educators to bring back to life and open to the public a valuable piece of Chelsea history.  He was a member of the Chelsea Historical Commission, and in 2005 received the City of Chelsea Senior Citizen of the Year Award.

As a faithful communicant of Our Lady of Grace Parish, he enjoyed singing in the choir, performing in variety shows, and the community and camaraderie of the parish. He would frequently drive a truck to gather donated goods for the Our Lady of Grace food bank, and there are also quite a few scouts who would earn First Aid and Fire Safety badges under his tutelage. 

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